“My Kingdom is Not of This World”

My kingdom is not of this world…” (rf. Jn. 18:36)

            At the writing of this month’s entry, Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church has just completed his first visit to the shores of America. With the response he was accorded by the politicians in Washington, the American media, and the public in general, one would have thought that the myths surrounding the Pontiff were true, that he was, indeed, the Vicar, or substitute, of Jesus Christ on the earth and that he was gifted by his office to do wondrous miracles! However, truth be told, more lies with his overwhelming popularity in his alignment and current allegiance with politically correct beliefs and statements on significant issues than with any supposed spiritual renewals taking place among the American people right now or in any inherent spiritual power that this Pope may professedly possess. No, the rock-star status of Francis is due to the perception that he is finally leading the hitherto conservative Roman Catholic Church down a path to a more enlightened liberalism that will usher in a “bright new day of freedom” for Catholics everywhere, especially in the United States. At least, that is the pervasive hope underlying all of the hoopla.
            Protestants should take close note of these developments as well, and not just for their political ramifications. We tend to get caught up in media-created frenzy while not thinking about what is really going on. We also have the same problem with “celebrityism” in our own backyard, putting our leaders on pedestals and worshiping them as gods, waiting with baited breath on every word that proceedeth from their lips while purchasing every book that cometh forth from their pens. Far be it from us to cast stones at the Catholics when we have plenty of popes of our own!
            As conservative Evangelicals, many of us have appropriated a particular theory of the end times that has Jesus coming back to establish an earthly kingdom in Israel from which to rule the whole earth, making the future of Jerusalem and Israel pivotal pawns on the world’s political stage. Yet, Jesus Himself stated above that an earthly kingdom was not at all a part of His plan. His kingdom was and is spiritual (rf. Lk. 17:21 KJV), and would be expanded and brought about by the power of His Spirit (rf. Acts 1:3-4, 8). There are a number of people who make their living off of prophetic guesses as to when Jesus will return to set up His earthly kingdom to rule and reign, not realizing or recognizing that His kingdom has already arrived at His first coming when He was born in a manger so many years ago (rf. Is. 9:6-7) We know that He will return to bring His kingdom promises to fruition and to close out this age in final judgment, separating the true from the false as a shepherd parts his sheep from the goats (rf. Mt. 25:31-46).

            Until then, He expects us to live and act like citizens of His kingdom, displaying His colors (i.e. flying His flag, metaphorically speaking) by the way that we live our lives even as we depend upon His Spirit as our primary resource. We possess the treasure of His kingdom, the Gospel of Christ, a prize He means for us to share with others as His way of expanding the kingdom’s influence and territory. In this way, Jesus shows the world that He requires no earthly landmarks, no army, no palace, no planes, no ostentatious ceremonies or costumes to prove His kingship. He simply uses the common people of the world like you and me as His citizens to display His glory and to reveal the reality of His kingdom on earth, here and now and in the ages to come, until He returns to “tie up the loose ends” of history, ushering in the formal introduction to eternity.

Dealing with Anger and Depression

Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (rf. Eph. 4:26)

            How often have we heard sermons about rightly communicating our anger and making sure that we express our negative emotions in a constructive fashion, especially before the day is out, so that bitterness is not planted in our hearts (rf. Eph. 4:31; Heb. 12:15). I myself have preached and taught this truth many times over the years. Yet, something that I have not realized until very recently is that, though these truths are easily stated, they can be quite difficult to practice, especially if one is introverted by nature and subject to outward pressures and expectations that preclude expressions of negative emotions. Such a combination can, in fact, become lethal and can turn one’s anger inward, packaging those negative feelings one on top of another, leaving one depressed, suffering at the hands of constant discouragement and despair. If anyone has ever experienced this as well, he or she understands the paralysis of action, the loss of joy, the detriment such heartache has on the closest of relationships as well as the toll it takes on one’s faith and hope for the future. Because these feelings run deep in the soul, one who suffers such a malady cannot just “snap out of it” as out of a bad dream. No, redemption takes the hand of God Who shows unconditional love for the vulnerable nature of the one hurting and Who is willing to take the time necessary to minister His healing balm of love and restoration until the wounds are healed.
            What then can be done by those who walk along beside these wounded vulnerable ones in need? First of all, and above all, pray for them that God’s Presence and peace would be a constant source of comfort to their hearts as He brings healing to them (rf. Php. 4:6-9). Second, be a source of encouragement to them without putting unnecessary pressure or expectations upon them as to when they should get or be better, how they should act, etc. Depression is a real struggle to overcome, sometimes in need of medication to assist in the treatment. Often Christians do not view mental or emotional maladies with the same seriousness as physical ones, causing those who suffer from them to feel as “less than” Christians for being so afflicted. This perspective also prevents them from coming forward to acknowledge their suffering, allowing their pride to become a barrier that keeps from the healing they need and require. Those who are strong, rather, must uphold those who are weak at present, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually, so that, when the time comes and we are in the place of need, someone will be there to help us. This is how the body of Christ is designed to operate (rf. II Cor. 8:14).

            There are a number of believers in Christ who struggle with depression. Thankfully, there is always hope because the Lord we serve is ruler of all things, including our hearts and minds. He has the power to “create…a clean heart…and renew a steadfast (right) spirit” (rf. Ps. 51:10) within us, removing the anger that threatens to destroy us. As He does, He also gives us “a future and a hope” (rf. Jer. 29:11), to remind us, in spite of our feelings, that we as His children are, indeed, an important part of a much bigger picture He is completing. We need only relinquish ourselves, our lives, our hearts, our dreams, especially, our internal anger, to Him in order for us to begin to see what He will do with us to make this beautiful portrait a reality.

The Lure of Idolatry

You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lordyour God, am a ?jealous God, ?visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”  (Exod. 20:3-6)

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and ?recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘What commandment is the foremost of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” (Mk. 12:28-30)

            God is absolutely clear about who is supposed to receive our complete and total allegiance and fealty—God and God alone. The reason for this exclusivity is that there is but one God in existence in all of the universe. It is the God of the Holy Bible, the God of Israel. So, if He is doing a solo act, He possesses the authority to “call the shots”, to tell His creation, those who exist at His sole pleasure, that they do not have the license to go forth and create with their own imaginations gods or deities of their own personal designs.
            Yet, as humans, sinners that we are, we rebel against God’s directives and go our own way, thinking that we know best about life and people. We develop philosophies of thought that are in direct contradiction to the teachings of God’s Word, while not weighing the consequences of doing so. Thus, it should not be surprising when rebellious humans “reap the whirlwind” of justice, when not only do our best-laid plans and schemes ultimately fail, but also that the instruments of God Himself are rallied against us as well as all forms of idolatry.
            With all of this in mind, one would think, “How in the world would a professed believer in Christ ever open himself/herself up to even the possibility of falling into idolatry?” Those who have succumbed to its poison do not realize just how powerful and subtle the hold it has over them. How many times did Israel fall prey to idols and, yet, still believe herself to be faithful to Jehovah? Do we recall Aaron’s words regarding the golden calf that he fashioned for the people of the Covenant at their insistence? “—"This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (rf. Ex. 32:4). We are so easily mislead.
            I share this with you as a warning from a shepherd to the sheep. The gods of this age are many: self, money/greed, jobs/career, children, luxury, play/enjoyment, etc. If these largely intangible gods were physical realities like the substantial idols of old (or those in the Near East), many Christians would have a house full, like Micah (rf. Jg. 17:1-5 [5]). Indeed, the largest (and most popular) of the present-day gods, political correctness, would have its own suitable statue in each yard awaiting its desired human sacrifices, much akin to its ancient predecessor, Molech (rf. Lv. 20:1-5; Jer. 32:35).
            God is serious about wanting our complete and total devotion. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection does not give us grace in order to gain eternity in heaven just to pursue our idols of lust while on earth (rf. Rom. 6). Jesus means for us to be absolute committed to Him as His disciples and followers. This means having no other gods in our lives but Him. Is that absolutely true for your life?