Musings on the Kingdom of Heaven

#DailyBibleReading #BibleReadingPlan

“But what do you think about this?

A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway.

Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

“Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied, “The first.”

Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.” Matthew 21:28-32 

I am a poster child for “fly over” America. I live in the middle of the United States in a nice, middle-class house. I have a husband, two kids, and a dog. I drive my kids to sports and school.  I am a typical “soccer mom” (minus the soccer and the peppy smile and cute blonde pony-tail . . . I’m the mom hanging out in her car with no make-up and lots of gray hair, trying to finish an overdue library book while drinking lukewarm coffee).

I am rarely pushed out of my comfort zone. I’ve traveled internationally and seen poverty, but it doesn’t touch my day-to-day life. I go to church with a lot of other hard-working, suburban, mid-westerners.

Yes, there are hipsters and hippies and refugees in our midst, but the count is small.

Sure, there are probably a lot of us living paycheck to paycheck, but not too many who are skipping meals due to lack of money.

This is my little piece of the world.

Not to say there isn’t pain and drama and sin in my church – there is – plenty of it. Just like every church in the world, the seats are full of people silently suffering from depression and anxiety. Whether in their past or present life – there is the struggle of addiction to porn, drugs, alcohol and gambling. There is divorce. There are past childhood wounds. There is future baggage being created. There is gossip and anger. There is hurt. There are struggles.

There are also the same faces that are seen every Sunday – the church leaders, the greeters, the childcare volunteers.

And then there are the invisible Christians. There are those who walk in and walk out of church, unnoticed. There are those who never even walk in the doors, because they are ashamed of the baggage they carry. There are brothers and sisters in Christ who go to church in prison as they serve a life-sentence. There are those who never show up on Sunday morning because they are in a nursing home or hospital.

In my mind, I see the “Kingdom of Heaven” being my church on a bigger scale, just without the ongoing sin and pain.

And it some ways it will be. But in other ways it will be much different.

In heaven, the invisible Christians will finally be seen. And they won’t be last. They will be first. The death row inmate who gave his life to Christ in the final hours will be leading the choir. The former thief will be at a place of honor. The invisible Christians – the poor and the hurting – will be those with the best seats at the table.

There will be people from every nationality and ethnicity, worshiping together. The prostitute with the preacher. The murderer with the cop. The man who struggled with same-sex attraction and the man who struggled with judging others. The republican and the democrat. The liberal and the conservative. The socialist, the libertarian, and the communist. The rich and the poor. The elderly and the infant.

Maybe it is time that I open my eyes and see others the way Jesus sees them. Love them the way Jesus loves them. Show compassion like Jesus showed. For all I know the homeless man I pass on the way to church might have a seat reserved for him in heaven, at the right hand of Jesus. The woman who keeps her head down at the grocery store and looks like her life is a mess . . . might be first in the Kingdom of Heaven.

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Then he said,“I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 18:1-4 

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:3

“God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:10 

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 

“I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” Then Jesus said to his disciples,“I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said,“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:23-26 

Matthew 20: Showing up Late for Work

Today’s #BibleReadingPlan had me read Matthew 20:1-19. Recently my pastor taught on this passage, which showed me this parable in a light I’d never seen before. You can listen to the sermon here on Journey Church’s website.  Pastor Phil Human does a great job illustrating what this parable means . . . but I’ll take a shot at summarizing as well.

  • God is the boss of heaven. He is a kind boss. He is merciful. He is generous. He is loving.
  • Someone can turn to God in the twilight of their life – and God will welcome them into heaven just the same as someone who served Him their whole life.
  • Our focus shouldn’t be on what others are doing, how much money they are making or rewards they are getting . . . our focus should be on the tasks God has given us and our relationship with Him.
  • I need to humble myself and be grateful for the gifts God has given me.

The Parable:

6 a.m.: A landowner went into town to hire people to work in his vineyard. He found a group of laborers and agreed to pay them a set amount for working the full day. (For example, $80)

9 a.m.: Same landowner is back in town and sees some people standing around doing nothing. He offered them a job to work in the vineyard for the rest of the day. They didn’t negotiate a pay rate, but he said he’d pay them whatever was right at the end of the day.

Noon: Same as 9 a.m.

3 p.m.: Same as 9 a.m.

5 p.m.: Same as 9 a.m.

7 p.m.: Everyone comes in from work and stands in line to get their pay. They line up from how long they worked. At the front of the line are the guys who only worked for a few hours. I imagine they aren’t even tired after only working a few hours. The landowner hands them each $80.

When the guys who had been working all day see this they start to do the math and get excited, thinking if the landowner paid these guys $80 for working 2 hours they are probably going to get $520 for working 13 hours!

But as they go down the line, the landowner hands everyone $80.

The guys at the end of the line were extremely upset with the landowner and didn’t think he was being fair.

But in reality, he was paying them exactly what he had agreed to pay them. They weren’t getting ripped off. They were being paid the going rate for the work they did. But, the landowner was being kind to the others and the 6 a.m. workers were jealous.

As Pastor Phil said in his sermon, most of us hear this parable and get a little indignant just like the 6 a.m. worker.

But now switch things around a bit . . . let’s get real. I’m not a 6 a.m. worker. I may have been a “Christian” from a young age, but I wasn’t actively running the race until a few years ago. And when it is hot, I take a lot of water breaks. I give into temptation. I get easily distracted from the tasks God has given me.

Am I really a 6 a.m. worker? Not by a long-shot.  Not even a 9 a.m. or noon worker. I’d probably say I’m a 3 p.m. worker . . . but if I’m honest I’m actually a 5 p.m. worker. I spend the majority of my day hanging out in town. And I give God the left-overs of my energy and time.

God asks me to spend time with him. To love him with all my heart and soul. To love my enemies. To love my neighbors. To care for the widows and the orphans. To be patient, kind, merciful and humble. 99% of the time (or more) I am none of these and do none of them.

But God, in his kindness, is going to give me the same reward of admission into heaven as He gave our mentors from the Bible – Peter, Paul, Mary, Stephen. By God’s grace, I will enter heaven just like martyrs, missionaries, apostles and saints.

Instead of getting indignant about the 5 p.m. workers getting $80 . . .  I need to look in the mirror and see myself for what I am: A 5 p.m. worker.

I should be on my knees thanking God for his kindness and mercy because I am being given a gift far more generous and wonderful than I could ever earn or will ever deserve.

 

 

 

Jonah: A Love Story

I love how my #BibleReadingPlan brings together similar themes throughout the Bible. Yesterday’s theme was God’s compassion . . . even for our enemies.

Jonah 1-4 #BibleReadingPlan

I started in Jonah. This is a story I thought I knew inside and out since the time I was a kid in Sunday school. Jonah ran away from God; God pursued him; big fish ate him. He finally obeyed God, but was mad and pouting. I’ve been Jonah a million times.

But yesterday I discovered something different in the book of Jonah.

Why was Jonah so reluctant to go to Nineveh and so mad when God didn’t destroy the Ninevites? Nineveh (located in modern-day Mosul, Iraq) was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Going back even further in childhood Sunday School lessons . . . remember Noah’s three sons – Shem, Ham and Japheth? After the flood they got off the ark and went out to re-populate the world. Ham’s descendants built the city of Nineveh.

Nineveh and the Assyrian empire were enemies of Israel. Nineveh was the capital of the most powerful empire in the ancient world. Throughout the Old Testament Assyria attacked Israel and had taken it captive (2 Kings 17) and was known as a ruthless nation (Isaiah 10).

Dr. Simon Anglim, a historian in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, wrote:

The Assyrians created the world’s first great army and the world’s first great empire. This was held together by two factors: their superior abilities in siege warfare and their reliance on sheer, unadulterated terror. It was Assyrian policy always to demand that examples be made of those who resisted them; this included deportations of entire peoples and horrific physical punishments. One inscription from a temple in the city of Nimrod records the fate of the leaders of the city of Suru on the Euphrates River, who rebelled from, and were reconquered by, King Ashurbanipal:

I built a pillar at the city gate and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up inside the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes.” Such punishments were not uncommon. Furthermore, inscriptions recording these vicious acts of retribution were displayed throughout the empire to serve as a warning. Yet this officially sanctioned cruelty seems to have had the opposite effect: though the Assyrians and their army were respected and feared, they were most of all hated and the subjects of their empire were in an almost constant state of rebellion (185-186).

Psalm 83 #BibleReadingPlan

Yesterday’s reading also took me to a song asking God to destroy Israel’s enemies. There was a group of countries that were plotting to wipe out Israel. They wanted to destroy even the memory of Israel’s existence. They had signed a treaty as allies with the purpose of destroying Israel. The list of countries that had signed the treaty included Assyria. 

In Psalm 83 the author is crying out to God to destroy these enemy countries:

“O my God, scatter them like tumbleweed, like chaff before the wind! As a fire burns a forest and as a flame sets mountains ablaze, chase them with your fierce storm; terrify them with your tempest. Utterly disgrace them until they submit to your name, O LORD. Let them be ashamed and terrified forever. Let them die in disgrace. Then they will learn that you alone are called the LORD, that you alone are the Most High, supreme over all the earth.” Psalms 83:13-18 

God saw the evil in Assyria. He knew what they had done to Israel in the past and the destruction they would do in the future. He had heard the prayers from Israel for the complete decimation of Assyria.

But our God is merciful. Loving. Patient. Compassionate.

When Jonah looked at Nineveh he saw ruthless enemies who deserved to die.

But when God looked at Nineveh he saw “120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals.”  (Jonah 4:11).

God had Compassion.

And he chose to send Jonah to give these enemies a second chance.

Jonah didn’t run from God because he was scared. Or lazy. Or jealous.

Jonah ran away because he hated Nineveh. He wanted Nineveh to be destroyed. He would have rather died than see God showing compassion to Nineveh.

When the people of Nineveh repented and turned from their evil ways God showed them mercy.

“So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.” Jonah 4:2 

The book of Jonah isn’t just a story about a man spending three days in the belly of a big fish. It isn’t just about a man running away God. It isn’t just about Jonah complaining and a worm eating his shade plant.

The book of Jonah is about God’s compassion for humanity.

It is about God’s slowness to anger and His eagerness to forgive even the worst offenders.

The book of Jonah is a love story.

 

 

 

 

 

God is . . .

Merciful

Compassionate

Slow to Anger

Filled with Unfailing Love

Eager to Relent and Not Punish

Mercy: compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence (Dictionary.com)

Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. (Dictionary.com)

Anger: strong emotional reaction of displeasure, often leading to plans for revenge or punishment. * (God is slow to having this reaction)

Love: a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person (Dictionary.com)

“God Is Love. ‘Agape’ the love theme of the Bible, can only be defined by the nature of God. John affirms that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God does not merely love; he is love. Everything that God does flows from his love.” *

Relent: to soften in feeling, temper, or determination; become more mild, compassionate, or forgiving. (Dictionary.com)

* Definitions from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, unless otherwise noted.

God is Love

That is why the LORD says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. Joel 2:12-13 

Benefits of Daily Bible Reading

Prior to the end of 2015, I didn’t read the Bible every day. I’d read other devotional books or Bible studies that usually included reading a few verses. I was rarely reading whole chapters in the Bible. Let alone whole books. Most of my quiet time consisted of reading what other people had discovered in their quiet times.

Then everything changed.

  • I was frustrated with the lack of progress I was making in become more Christ-like. I know Jesus wants me to be loving, patient, kind, etc. But I wasn’t seeing any changes in my life. I was a Christian . . . so why wasn’t I becoming more like Christ?
  • I read “The Divine Mentor: Growing Your Faith as You Sit at the Feet of the Savior”  by Wayne Cordeiro (More here).  Basic premise – spending time reading and studying the Bible everyday is the key to life transformation.
  • My church small group voted to read through the Bible in 2016. I decided to get a head-start and begin in 2015.

Here are the tools I use:

  1. Bible Reading: I use the YouVersion app and read the Bible on my phone.  I like it because I can highlight verses, read a passage in another version (NIV vs. NLT), create pictures from the verses, etc. Lately, I have found myself getting distracted on my phone. It seems like the minute I start ready the Bible an all-important Facebook notification pops up. I may be switching back to my actual physical Bible soon!
  2. Bible Reading Plan: Last year I used Wayne Cordeiro’s “Life Journal Reading Plan”. This year I am using Skövde Pingst’s “The BIBLE in a Year” plan. Both have been great – they include some New Testament, Old Testament and usually either some Psalms or Proverbs. And remember, you don’t have to start a plan on January 1st. I started in November 2015. Start today!
  3. S.O.A.P. Journal. In The Divine Mentor Wayne Cordeiro explains the S.O.A.P. method of journaling while reading the Bible. I’ve adapted it a bit. My journal includes my own personal journal, my prayer journal and my daily SOAP. In this video Wayne explains the method (and it doesn’t hurt it is filmed in Hawaii – I think I could spending hours doing S.O.A.P on the beach!).
    • S: Scripture
    • O: Observation
    • A: Application or Action
    • P: Prayer

Personally, reading the Bible every day has been the most beneficial thing I’ve ever done. I’m finally seeing my life changing – from the inside out. No, it hasn’t happened at the speed I’ve wanted. And sometimes I get in a slump. But I am seeing changes. Slowly and steadily.

Here are a few passages that also explain the importance of reading the Bible.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.Psalms 119:105 

Instruction for the kings of Israel:

When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the LORD his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.   Deuteronomy 17:18-20 

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. Joshua 1:8 

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4:12 

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 

 

 

In a Slump

I haven’t written my blog for a while. I’ve been in a bit of a spiritual slump. I’ve still been doing my daily Bible reading, but nothing seems to sink in. I’ve been doing my SOAP . . . but the “A” (Action) has been lacking.  I’m distracted.

I read the Bible on my phone on the YouVersion app and lately in the middle of reading I’ll get a text (or remember a text I “need” to send) or receive a Facebook notification and soon I’m 20 minutes deep into social media and my Bible reading is forgotten. And then by the time I get back to the Bible my mind keeps wandering back to social media.

Looking back over my journal the last few weeks some lines I’ve written stand out:

  • “I am irritable” (July 7th)
  • “I am worn out” (July 6th)
  • “Sometimes I’m embarrassed to say that I am a Christian . . . not because I’m ashamed of Jesus but because I’m ashamed of the terrible job I do showing His love to others” (July 5th)
  • “My mind is distracted by social media, TV, etc. I don’t have peace” (June 29)
  • “I am having a hard time focusing and praying right now” (June 27)

Interestingly, just a few days before my “slump” started I had attended a Bible Study on “The Invisible War” by Chip Ingram. The study I attended was on prayer. We are in an invisible war and we need prayer at all times. Our prayers should be constant, intense, and focused.

Satan hates when we pray.

Satan wants us distracted. He wants our Bible reading and prayers to be a half-effort. He wants us to just go through the motions or not at all.

When I let myself slide in my prayer life and Bible reading I can see the effects in my actions and attitudes. I become irritable and unloving. I don’t have peace.

Is it a coincidence that I made a conscience decision to get more focused in my prayer life and then – BAM – suddenly a million distractions seem to pop up every time I sit down to pray and read the Bible?

I doubt it.

Satan doesn’t want me praying and applying what I read in the Bible. He knows that amazing things will happen if I do. This race is not a sprint . . . but a marathon.  I will have distractions and pains along the way. But I need to push through. Persevere. Run the race before me.

“Get behind me Satan”.

Set my sights on Jesus.

Onward.

 

 

Resisting the Schemes of Satan

Knowing the schemes of Satan and putting on the Armor of God. #armorofgodstudy #DailyBibleReading @PriscillaShirer

Last night I read an article about a man whose teenage daughter went missing. After an extensive search, involving the police and the FBI, they found her.  The girl had been sold into the sex industry.  Her father explained that several years ago a man had found her online and started to prey on her. The man figured out her strengths and weaknesses. He lied to her about his identify. He groomed her. He was patient and cunning. This complete stranger spent two years building a relationship with her for the sole purpose of getting her to willingly follow him. This was his full-time job – recruiting kids to be sold into the sex industry. Grooming and selling one child into sexual slavery meant  a $150,000 – $300,000 profit for this predator.

This father told his story as a warning for other parents. He implored them to be vigilant in guarding their children’s online activity and to become educated on the schemes of online predators. These predators are smart, manipulative and secretive. And many parents think their children are safe at home when there is actually terrible danger lurking behind their screens.

 

 

cell Phone girls.jpg

My #DailyBibleReading this morning included 2 Corinthians 2. Paul was writing to a church and one line in his letter really stood out to me – especially in light of the story I had read last night:

so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.
2 Corinthians 2:11 NLT

Satan is like that online predator – patiently manipulating and lying to us. Tempting us. Trying to outsmart us.

Paul said that the church in Corinth was familiar with Satan’s evil schemes.

But am I familiar with Satan’s schemes? No. Usually I am completely unaware.

2 Corinthians 2-11.jpg

How often do I look at a person or a situation as the enemy? I usually blame a human – or even God – as the cause of my hurt or temptation or frustration; without ever considering that my real enemy, Satan, is behind the screen, manipulating the situation.

To another church Paul said:

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 NLT

How can I be fighting against and protecting myself from evil forces if I don’t even know their schemes? 

One thing I love about my #DailyBibleReading through Bible.com or the YouVersion App is the easy ability to study deeper into a topic. In the “Search” bar I looked up “Satan” and started reading through the Bible verses that came up to have a better idea of Satan’s schemes so I can identify them in my own life.  This link will take you to the search if you’d like to read through the list on your own.  Some of my observations are below the picture.

Bible.com search tool.png
Bible.com Search Tool

Just like the father whose daughter had been sold into sex slavery explained, intellectually knowing the schemes of predators isn’t enough. I need to act. I need to protect myself and my family.

How can I protect myself from the schemes of the devil?

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. Ephesians 6:11,13-18  NLT

  1. Truth: Satan is the father of lies. We need to know what is true and what is a lie. And not fall for his lies.
  2. God’s righteousness: To protect my heart, I need to obey God. I need to flee sin. And cling to God’s goodness.
  3. Gospel of Peace
  4. Faith
  5. Salvation
  6. Word of God: #DailyBibleReading, meditation, memorization
  7. Prayer, Prayer, and more Prayer

Priscilla Shirer is one of my favorite Bible Study authors and speakers. Recently I had the opportunity to see her in person during her Fervent Tour (which I highly recommend). She talked quite a bit about the Armor of God during the event, which was very helpful in better understanding the Armor of God and recognizing Satan’s strategies and combating them.

She also has a whole book and study on the topic:

Armor of God by Priscilla Shirer:  

I haven’t done the study, but hope to. Here is a link to a video with the first lesson of Armor of God Bible study. The promo is below:

 

I’ll be keeping my eyes open for this Bible Study taking place locally – I would love to participate with a local of group of women studying how to put on the full armor of God and be ready for battle.

How about you? What has been your experience in putting on the Armor of God and being aware of and combating the schemes of the devil?