Sep 4 2013

Thy Kingdom Come

_CES0674Even though you don’t hear people talk about it much these days if you examine carefully Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels you will discover that his primary subject was “the kingdom of God.”  He begins his ministry proclaiming that the “the kingdom is near” (Mark 1:15) and towards the end of it he was still focusing on the kingdom.  Many of Jesus’ parables concerned the kingdom of God.  He would begin them by saying “The kingdom of God is like a… (mustard seed, a man going out to sow seed, etc.)”  In Luke 4:43 Jesus says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”   He understood that proclaiming the kingdom of God was central to his mission.  When Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray he gave them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.  An important part of this prayer is the petition, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:10)  Yes, the kingdom of God was central to Jesus’ teaching.

_CES0739In his book The Environment and the Christian Calvin B. DeWitt notes the importance of the kingdom of God for Jesus and says that we should understand Creation Care to be a part of what the kingdom means today.  He writes: “In the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament the kingdom of God is the central symbol for the new vision of life in its fullness; it involves personal, social, earthly, and cosmic dimensions of salvation; its earthly and cosmic dimensions of restoration lead directly to an ethic of care for the creation.  The kingdom of God is a vision of things as they ought to be in the entire cosmos, human and nonhuman; it is an order in which all things are in right relationship.  It is a creation-affirming alternative to those modern structures that bring the creation to ruination and brokenness.”

_CES0861The kingdom of God is wherever God rules or reigns.  As DeWitt mentions, this covers a lot of territory.  God’s intention is to rule in every area of our lives and every area of the world.  When we pray “Thy kingdom come” we are simply offering a plea that in all places God’s will might be done.  Jesus added that our present concern is “on earth.”  Just as God’s will is done perfectly in heaven our goal is that it might be perfectly fulfilled on earth as well.  I think a lot of folks haven’t really contemplated what it means to say “on earth” when they pray the Lord’s Prayer.  It can be understood comprehensively to say God’s will should be done everywhere and that is true.  It can also lead us, however, to remember that God has a will, purpose or goal for the earth itself.

_CES0347DeWitt described the kingdom of God as “a vision of things as they ought to be.”  As we look at the state of our planet it would be hard to conclude that things are as they ought to be.  Did God intend for our waters to be contaminated by so many chemicals?  Did God intend for the air to be so polluted that it contributes to many diseases?  Did God intend for large portions of the earth to be destroyed primarily for personal gain?  As we look at our planet there are numerous areas where it is safe to say that things are not as they were meant to be, not what God intended.  If we are going  to pray seriously for God’s kingdom to come we will see a multitude of places where things are not as they ought to be and strive to bring about the changes that will move them to where God would have them be.  As we do so I hope we will not forget to include this planet we call earth.

–Chuck

(I took all of the pictures above last month in North Cascades National Park.)


Dec 18 2011

Seeing Creation After Bethlehem

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14

Even though I was a history major in college I do not consider myself much of a historian.  Still, I do remember that at the time of Christ many Greeks believed that matter was evil.  Only things related to the spirit were considered good.  This philosophy affected many early Christians.  There was the belief among some early followers that the body and all things material were corrupt.  One can only imagine how those holding such a view looked at the natural world.

Today we can say with confidence that the material world is not evil.  We know from Genesis 1 that the world was created by God and that He declared it “good.”  But even if we didn’t have this passage, the birth of Christ also makes the same positive affirmation.  How so?  Simply by His willingness to take on human flesh in the Incarnation God affirms the goodness of the material world and Creation.

Although you rarely hear people declaring the material world evil these days there are still many who make a clear distinction between things sacred and secular.  After the coming of Christ I am not sure that even this is a valid distinction.  The coming of Jesus as Emmanuel—God with us—reveals the truth that the divine presence permeates all of the world.  As Emmanuel, God remains present in and around us.  This means that if we truly have eyes to see then we will discern His presence in Creation and in those around us.  Jesus himself said “the kingdom of God is in your midst.”  If we look closely we will see it all around us.

While I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a couple of weeks ago I had a chance to spend some time at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.  In additions to her delightful paintings, the museum displays a number of sayings from the famous artist.  O’Keeffe once said, “seeing takes time.”  When it comes to seeing the divine in this present world it does, in fact, take time.  But if we will be persistent in our looking and open to God’s wonderful surprises, we will discover that the God who made Himself known through the Child born in Bethlehem is still very much in our midst.

–Chuck

(I took the two pictures above on my recent trip to New Mexico.)


Jun 22 2011

The Secret to Thriving

While I was in northern California last week I was reminded that many species of plants (and animals) can only thrive where the conditions are just right.  The majestic redwoods do well on the coast of California for a reason.  Further east on the White Mountains, the ancient bristlecone pine forests exists because the conditions are just right for them to grow there.  The redwoods could not grow where the bristlecone pine trees are found and those trees would not last long in the environment where the redwoods thrive.  Rob and I also visited a bog area that is the home of the cobra pitcher plant.  You will not find this unique plant in many places because like the redwood and pine trees, it requires a certain type soil and environment to survive and prosper.  It is just a fact of nature that various species require certain conditions in order to do well.

What is true in the natural world is also true in the spiritual realm.  There are conditions that are necessary in order to thrive spiritually.  Without these conditions we will not do well at all.  Our chances of growing without the right environment are about as good as a bristlecone pine tree making it on the coast of California.  What are the ideal conditions for spiritual prosperity?  Obviously, there are many.  Here are a couple of things that come to my mind.  First, we thrive spiritually when we focus on the kingdom of God.  Jesus placed great emphasis on the kingdom of God and taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  He also said “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33)   Many of us fail to grow spiritually because our lives tend to focus first and foremost on ourselves.  We want our kingdom to come and our will to be done.  We won’t get far spiritually that way. 

Second, we will also have a better chance of thriving spiritually if we will seek to incorporate spiritual disciplines into our lives.  These are time-tested practices that put us in a position to grow.  Some of the classic disciplines are prayer, the study of scripture, fasting, solitude, silence, meditation, service, worship and confession.  Where these practices are found in the soil of one’s life there is far more likelihood of flourishing than if these disciplines are absent or neglected.

As humans created in the image of God we have the freedom to choose our spiritual environment.  If we find ourselves in a place where we are not growing we can change that.  This is good news!  It offers hope for everyone.  We can all thrive if we just make the effort to place ourselves in the environment God has deemed best for us.

–Chuck 

(The redwood trees and pitcher plant shown above were photographed last week.  The ancient bristlecone pine tree image was taken a couple of years ago.)