Monthly Archives: August 2021

The Coming of the Kingdom of God

“The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘there it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17: 20-21 NIV)

With these words, Jesus is responding to the Pharisees’ question of when the kingdom of God would come.  It is a question people have been asking for centuries, starting with the apostles.   The Pharisees are thinking in terms of an earthly kingdom, namely Israel, but Jesus gives them a surprising answer.  The kingdom of God is not like an earthly kingdom with observable boundaries and an earthly king.     Rather, Jesus says the kingdom of God is “within you,” or “among you” as in some translations.  Its geography is our heart, our soul – our inner being.    

Jesus gives added understanding of this verse in the Gospel of John when he says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14:23)  If we love God and obey his teaching, God and Jesus will take up residence in us.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, God draws us closer to him each day. We desire to be in his presence, we seek to know him more through prayer and scripture, and to participate in the sacraments if we a part of a sacramental church.  We seek to love and serve God and one another.

Might not this be the kingdom Jesus is talking about when he instructed the disciples how to pray?   “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”   In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom in us and that his will be accomplished through us.

As earthly kingdoms experience the rise of enemies with whom they have to do battle, so also does God’s kingdom in us have to do battle with God’s enemy, the devil.  The devil constantly strives to lure us away from God’s kingdom into his kingdom.  But God equips us for this spiritual battle with prayer, his word, the Church’s sacraments and the Holy Spirit.  He provides us with supporting allies in our brothers and sisters in Christ and the Church.

For a number of years I have been meeting every Tuesday evening with a small group of men to share our lives and Christian faith.  We are of diverse backgrounds – a retired school teacher, a former Army intelligence officer, a senior executive with a large government agency, a retired attorney and a Catholic priest.  We have diverse opinions on lots of different subjects, but we are all seeking to grow deeper in our faith.  While each of us is capable of messing up, we are at the same time experiencing a taste of the kingdom of God though one another. 

When will the Kingdom of God come?  When we love Jesus, obey his teaching and invite the Father and Jesus to make their home in us.  

The Blessing of Burdens

“When you are burdened you are close to God.  When you are relieved of your burden you are close to yourself.” (St. John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, No. 4)   

In this proverb-like statement, St. John of the Cross captures the truth about our human nature and the way we tend to relate to God.  When things are going well, we tend to focus more on ourselves than God.  Remember the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus.  Only one returned to thank him and praise God. (Luke 17:17-18)

When we are burdened beyond our capabilities or unable to envision the solution to our need, we are more inclined to turn to God.  We are more open to humbly acknowledge our need.

When our youngest daughter with Down syndrome was facing heart surgery at five months to correct openings between the auricle and ventricle chambers of her heart, we sought the Lord intensely in prayer.  We also sought the prayer of some dear Christian friends who came to pray over our daughter and us.  After praying with us, one of them said, “With all your recent troubles, you may wonder whether the Lord is close to you, but you should know that he is closer than he has ever been before.”  

He was right.  We experienced God’s presence, his peace, and his healing.  During a cardiac catheterization in preparation for the surgery, we learned that the most critical opening between the ventricles had been healed, and the surgery was cancelled.  Correcting the opening between the auricles was postponed until she was four, when she was much stronger and the surgery was less risky.

Psalm 91:15 says, “All who call upon me I will answer, I will be with them in distress; I will deliver them and give them honor.” We should have hope in this promise when faced with various burdens, for they are opportunities to experience Jesus and his mercy. The burden could be an illness, the loss of a loved one, a sin, the alienation of a friend, the loss of a job, or a personal financial crisis. 

In a Christian ministry at a local jail, I have listened to various men share how the ordeal of their imprisonment had led them to be open to listening to God and his invitation to become a part of their lives.  One said that he would be literally dead now if he had not been imprisoned, which caused him to listen to God and come to know Jesus. 

Whatever our burden, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:28-29 NIV)

Have you experienced God’s presence through a burden? 

Peace Lost

If this day you only knew what makes for peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes.” These words of Jesus were addressed to the people of Jerusalem as he made his final entry before his passion. He goes on to describe how their enemies will kill them and destroy their temple, “because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” ((Luke19:42, 44)

Luke reports that Jesus wept as he approached the city, for the people had failed to recognize that God had visited them in the flesh.      

After all of the time he spent with them, after all of the miracles, after all the teaching, they still did not recognize that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was present to them in the person of Jesus.  They did not accept him as the Messiah they had waited for so long, and the consequences were dire. 

How often do we lose our peace because we forget that God in the person of Jesus and the Holy Spirit is in us?  Jesus tells us: he is with us always (Mt. 28:20); he wants us to come to him when we are weary or burdened (Mt. 11:28); he and the Father want to make their home in us (John 14:23); and apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

When I get angry with an inattentive store clerk or phone solicitor, I forget that the Father and Jesus reside in me, and I lose my peace. When I am indifferent to a homeless person asking for money at a stoplight, I forget that the Jesus in me wants to show him mercy. When I fail to stop and listen to a family member or friend who wants to talk or share a problem, I am putting shackles on God’s mercy and love that are waiting to be manifested through me.

When I refuse to embrace the cross in daily sacrifices, whether small and large, Jesus has some strong words – he says that anyone who does not take his cross and follow him “is not worthy of him.” (Mt. 10:38)

Yet, God never stops bidding us to seek him.  He has put in us a hunger for him whether we realize it or not.  It is a part of our human DNA.  God weeps when we do not recognize his presence in our lives.

Do we know what brings us peace?  It is the presence of God dwelling in us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, being poured out through us on the people and circumstances in our lives. 

Is peace hidden from your eyes? 

The Perils of Being Lukewarm

“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.  So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15) 

These words of Jesus to the Church of Laodicea are a shot across the bow of any complacency creeping into our lives as Christians.  God calls us to be holy as he is holy.  Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount offered the Beatitudes as a path to that holiness.  He says if we are meek and humble in spirit, mourn for our sins and the sins of others, show mercy, are pure in heart, and hunger for righteousness, we will be blessed.  We will be comforted, shown mercy, see the face of God, and the kingdom of God will be ours. (Mt. 5:3-12)  This is an offer we should not refuse. 

A few summers ago I took my name off a Saturday volunteers list in a Christian jail ministry for July and August in order to preserve the weekends for boating with family and friends.  God might have worked out the schedule if I had let him, but I pre-empted the choice.  I was neither seeking God nor asking what he wanted me to do in this matter.   

I can relate to Paul’s statement, “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” (Rom.7:15)  Living out the Beatitudes by our own will and determination is very difficult, but with God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit, the saints have shown us it is possible.  

Past sins are not a bar to sainthood.  St. Paul was a persecutor of the early church, standing by and sanctioning the murder of Stephen.  St. Peter denied three times that he knew Jesus.  St. Augustine is reported to have lived a rather hedonistic life, fathering a son from a woman he lived with for many years before he experienced his conversion.   Yet, all of them chose to give up following their own wills and seek God’s will instead.  Sainthood is determined by our actions today, not yesterday. 

Yet, it is our sinful nature, particularly pride and sloth, that war against the Beatitudes becoming the fabric for our daily choices.  In our pride we seek to substitute our will for God’s.  In our sloth we become indifferent to the needs of others and lose our passion to seek God in all things. 

While God is forgiving and merciful, his desire and call for us is neither casual nor trivial.  The last thing we should want is to become distasteful to Jesus.

Are we intentional in living out our Christian faith or “lukewarm?”

Worry’s Antidote

“So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ But, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Matthew 6:31, 33)

Jesus is exhorting us not to worry.   As God provides food for the birds and clothes the flowers with beauty, so will he provide for us.  Jesus says we should seek God’s kingdom first, and all these things will be provided as well.

The variety and subject of our worry is almost endless.  We can worry about our health, jobs, the well-being of loved ones, and what people think of us.  It is not uncommon to worry about all the preparations for a wedding or other big event, only to see it take place, and later wonder what all the worry was about.

When I look back on the greatest opportunities for worry in my life, I thank God that he was present when our youngest daughter underwent open heart surgery at age four.  I thank God that I was not relying only on my own pro and con list when making a major career decision impacting our family.  I thank God for his kingdom in surrounding me with a loving wife, family and friends when having surgery for an aggressive and advanced form of prostate cancer.  That was fourteen years ago.

Peter Kreeft in his book, After Virtue, reverses Jesus’ statement about seeking the kingdom.  “Unless we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all these things will not be added to us.”  If we are not seeking God, we are in effect separating ourselves from him, relying solely on ourselves.  “Doing it my way” may sound clever in a popular song, but it is not likely to result in our being part of God’s kingdom with the accompanying benefits of his wisdom, counsel, truth, courage, faith, hope and love.

Seeking God’s kingdom along with his guidance and assistance requires faith, detachment and contentment. We need faith in his love for us, trust in his provision, and hope in an outcome that is eternal.  We need detachment from trying to control the timing, means and outcome. 

When Martha complained to Jesus about Mary not helping her in the preparations for Jesus’ visit, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing.   Mary has chosen the better part.” (Luke 10: 41-42) Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to him. 

What is your antidote for worry – seeking the kingdom of God first, or relying primarily on your own resources?