What’s it all about?

Catchy tune, poignant words. “What’s it all about, Alfie” is a 1966 Burt Barach song, written for the movie Alfie. It was a sad movie. I saw it when it first came out and was sorry I did.

But those words ring around in my head these days as I read so many prophecies, so many news stories, so many opinions from political pundits and religious experts.

Here’s another catchy tune, from 1971. It has better words, straight out of the Bible:

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.”

In the last few weeks, I have watched the Holy Spirit demonstrate the kingdom of God in a variety of ways. Here’s a few instances:

A young college student was tormented by fear after his dad died in his sleep several months ago, terrified that his mother would also die suddenly and leave him an orphan. Unable to shake this dread, he was calling her at work multiple times a day just to be sure she was okay. They both knew he needed help. He needed deliverance. His mom came to me for help.

Several friends of his family gathered around him after church a couple of weeks ago. We commanded the tormenting spirit to leave and spoke God’s peace and joy to him, as the evil spirit of fear completely left him. Then we prayed for him to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he was. It has been marvelous to see what the Lord has been doing in his life since that morning. Freedom!

This past Sunday our pastor didn’t preach a usual sermon or teach a usual Bible lesson – he read long passages of scripture from Isaiah and Matthew, the prophecy and fulfillment of Jesus’ crucifixion.

“It was for you,” he said. “All of it was for you.” Then as he waited the Holy Spirit moved across the congregation, bringing several people forward for prayer. One young woman had decided to accept Jesus’ sacrifice and to say, “Yes, it was for me!” It was wonderful to join in praising God for her new life in Christ.

Not all the work of the kingdom I’ve been observing recently was in church altars or aisles. Last week in a local retail business, I had the privilege of laying hands on a 50 year old man for healing, and then for him to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He had recently been diagnosed with liver cancer and was facing weeks, perhaps months, of radiation and other therapies.

The power of God fell in that room. The presence of the Holy Spirit was so palpable, those observing were in tears – including me. We knew God was beginning something remarkable in him, even as he complies with his doctor’s plans for treatment. He was already an intercessor for his family and friends; now he will be interceding for his physicians, hospital staff, other patients and their families, all the new needy people he will encounter in this new chapter of his life.

The 54 year old son of friends had what should have been routine hernia surgery some weeks ago, but complications led to the build-up of fluid in his chest and then to non-healing of his surgical incision. Soon he was critically ill – an infection had developed in his blood.

He fell into a coma-like state and his family sent out an urgent request for intercession. His doctors weren’t optimistic for his recovery, but his family refused to be pessimistic as we spoke life, healing, wholeness, total and complete normal function to his body. Now only a short time later he is awake, talking and very hungry! After weeks of IV’s he is eating regular food – such a dramatic improvement that only the Lord can get the credit. And the glory!

In this last month there have been so many other opportunities, other occasions for the Lord to show himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are right toward him. He’s waiting for his people to take him where he wants to go and let him do what he wants to do. What he’s always done – demonstrate His kingdom.

If instead of looking at what’s wrong around us (in church, in government, in business, in family) let’s look at how we can manifest the kingdom of God in our part of the world. Letting Jesus use our eyes to look through is truly “eye-opening.” So many hurting people surround us every day, people who need help. God’s help. Our help.

When we see them that way, we’ll intervene. We’ll intercede. We’ll open our mouth and let the Holy Spirit fill it, extend our hand to convey God’s peace in the midst of turmoil. We’ll lay hands on the sick and see them recover. Speak the command and see demons flee.

That’s what it’s all about.

 

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Kingdom; king; hmmm.

David Warrior and KingA friend asked me the other day what I have been studying… here’s what I told him.

I study whatever the Lord drops into my mind. Recently it has been the kingdom of God from the viewpoint of Jews living when Jesus began to preach.

Did you ever notice that the Bible doesn’t say exactly what Jesus said about it? Just that he preached “repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” (Matt. 4:17) I wondered why he didn’t explain what “kingdom of God” meant, until after reading up on some Jewish theology.

The Jews knew – or thought they knew – what that meant. Restoration of military and political power, prestige and premier position on the world stage. Ruling over other nations, instead of being ruled by other nations. Micah Chapter 4 contains one description of that kingdom but there are many others.

Then too, when Peter acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ (Matt. 16:16), what did he mean by that? Well, I think the word “Christ” (anointed one) to Peter meant the descendent of King David who would be the new king of Israel, who would recreate Israel as the most powerful nation in the world.

After all, a man who can raise the dead, walk on water, multiply food, disappear in the midst of his enemies — the Romans would be powerless before such a man! He would recruit, empower and equip an army of rebels to get it done, and the disciples were surely his first recruits.

That’s what the people were looking for, what many Jewish people are still longing and looking for, and what the disciples thought they had found in Jesus. Jesus had to spend some time correcting their thinking.

You see, the Jews never really thought God Almighty in person would come occupy the palace, sit on a physical throne and rule the people. They thought a human descendant of King David, one with supercharged abilities, would do all that.

But God Almighty? Who used to live in the Ark of the Covenant? No, that’s not what they expected at all. But that’s what they got — in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Here’s a thought: you don’t need walkie-talkies (or cell phones) if the king inhabits the soldiers.

Here are some preliminary thoughts I had jotted down before answering my friend’s question:

Kingdoms are governed by kings. The Kingdom of God requires a king. A human one?

What did “Kingdom of God” mean to the Jews when Jesus went around preaching about it, in the days when he recruited his first followers (disciples, apostles) from local businessmen such as farmers, fishermen, craftsmen, even tax collectors.

And who would be its King? A descendent of King David? A human representative of Almighty God, as David had been?

Micah 4 describes the last days and its promised kingdom of God, where Israel has regained her prominence in the world, a strong, powerful nation where people enjoy their own property free and clear of taxes or fees or tribute to a foreign ruler, where foreigners will come to worship at the temple.

When Jesus began to preach, the opposite was the case. Israel was under the thumb of Rome, paying multiple taxes, fees and tributes to Caesar, even having to fork over percentages of crops and animals and fish and created goods just for the privilege of being ruled by Rome. Making ends meet was a struggle for most people.

Then too, Roman troops were stationed here and there across the country, able to command just about anything they wanted from the people. And what the Romans didn’t take, unrighteous religious leaders took.

A restoration of David’s kingdom would have been welcome indeed. Raise up a righteous army, powerful, not just a weak, defensive rag-tag bunch of rebels, but well armed, well trained. Throw off Roman rule. Collect tribute, not pay it.

What would be the first steps? For the disciples, if they’d had that mindset, it might have been to go underground, recruit other believers, begin to amass material goods, make plans. Recruit military-minded, intelligence-minded, political-minded rebels. Many of them. After all, Rome was pretty powerful! Begin the teaching and training necessary to succeed. I think Peter would have had that mindset. He would have stopped the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus, if he could.

But an earthly kingdom made up of mortals — human soldiers and politicians — is not what Jesus preached. Earthly kings and kingdoms come and go, rise and fall, live and die. God’s doesn’t. And God-inhabited humans are immortal.

No wonder Jesus stayed around 40 days after his resurrection, teaching the reality of the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).

Kingdom of heaven

In the book of Matthew, Jesus spoke a great deal about the kingdom of heaven. In the very beginning of his ministry, he declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)

I’ve been thinking about that lately. What did he mean by kingdom of heaven? We don’t live in the kingdom of the United States, so my concept of kingdom has been a little vague.

What did the people think he meant by it, when Jesus came declaring that the kingdom of heaven is at hand?

Did they think empire? Like Rome, Persia or Egypt; massive, powerful, wealthy. Ruled by an emperor, king or pharoah. Conqueror of other nations, other rulers. Collector of tribute and taxes. Conscriptor.

Or did they think nation like Judea, Arabia, Macedonia? Ruled by a local king but under the thumb of the Roman Empire?

Or did they think city state, like Damascus or Jericho? Thick walls, crowded buildings, narrow streets. Ruled by a dictator whose domain was small, weak and poor compared to those above.

A kingdom might begin and end at an ill-defined border. Trade routes and trading posts existed throughout the civilized world and criss-crossed the tiny nation of Israel.  Coarse camps and inns were scattered about where travelers could rest for the night, where for a few coins you could have a campsite, food or water.

Some borders featured check points where fees were collected on behalf of local officials for the privilege of crossing from one territory to the next. (The bribe system has been going on a very long time in the world, civilized countries or not…)

Borderlines changed frequently, as rulers gathered warriors and expanded kingdoms by force. Ordinary citizens received this news by way of traders: don’t go down to Egypt that way, don’t go up to Syria that way, skirmishes are going on, it’s not safe.

Nothing certain but death and taxes? Taxes have always been around it seems; even Jesus and his disciples paid taxes.  Rome needed money to build roads, palaces and ships, equip soldiers and pay administrators.

So, what did the people think Jesus meant? Whatever their experience with kingdom, it couldn’t have been good. Overthrow attempts happened with some regularity.

But kingdom of heaven? That’s different. Heaven is good.

“At hand.” Nearby, or coming soon. Okay, maybe that’s why “repent” was included. If God was going to set up his kingdom soon, and everyone knows only the righteous can be included in His kingdom, and if maybe I haven’t been too righteous lately – or if I have no idea how righteous is righteous enough – maybe I need to repent.

Is that what the people thought? I feel sure the people would have liked for God to obliterate their present rulers, from Caesar to Herod and Pilate and all the other ungodly governors. Call fire down from heaven. Wipe them off the face of the earth, bring justice and peace and a good life.

It took Jesus a while to correct their thinking and turn their attention from the external to the internal, the physical to the spiritual. Along the way he had to more accurately define kingdom of heaven, identify himself and lay out God’s actual agenda. It couldn’t have been an easy task.

Kingdom of heaven is an interesting subject. The more I learn about it, the more certain I am that we all need to learn more about it.