Seeking the Kingdom of God First!

JKingdom of Godesus said in Matthew 6:31-33: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (ESV)  

But, it’s kind of hard to look for something when you not exactly sure what you’re looking for! It’s like when I was a boy, my father would often tell me to go and bring him a certain tool. Now, he had already previously told me the names of the tools and what they looked like, but being an unfocused little boy, of course I had forgotten his lessons. So, when he told me to go and bring him a tool, more often than not, I would end up bringing him the wrong tool because I didn’t know what I was looking for! Most of the time I would bring two or three, hoping that one of them was the right one!

That is the way it is with many people today in regard to the instructions of Jesus to seek first the Kingdom of God! They don’t exactly know what Jesus was talking about so they just assume Jesus was saying: “Try to live right and make going to Heaven your top priority!” But is that really what Jesus said? Is that really what Jesus meant when he said: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God?” I really don’t think so!

When we look at the preaching and teaching of Jesus, one of the things that is immediately obvious is the fact that he was obsessed with the subject of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven! The Kingdom was the main focus of his preaching and teaching. The mighty works and miracles he performed were all about demonstrating the power of the Kingdom! Most of the parables and stories he told were about illustrating what the Kingdom is like! In Matthew 4:17, at the start of his public ministry, we read: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (ESV)  It interesting that in most evangelical preaching, the theme is: “Repent, so that you might go to Heaven when you die!” But that is NOT what Jesus preached! When Jesus preached and taught about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, most of the time he was not referring to a place called “Heaven!” When Jesus preached and taught about the Kingdom of God, most of the time he was referring to the present rule or reign of God in the heart and lives of people! He was talking about submitting to God’s rule and authority!

So, when he said: “But, seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” He was saying; “Seek to make the rule, authority, and word of God your first priority!” He was also telling his disciples (and those who would follow him now) to seek the Kingdom of God with the same intensity and urgency that those who don’t know God (the Gentiles) seek food, drink, and clothing! In the context of the passage, Jesus wasn’t telling his disciples to make going to Heaven their main pursuit, he was telling them to make the authority, the rule, the reign, and the authoritative word of God the main pursuit of their lives! As they did that, all the necessities needed for life would be added to them as a matter of course, and of course, they would go to Heaven when they died!

There are many “would-be-followers” of Christ today who are seeking blessings, prosperity, health and wealth! But we are never instructed to seek those things in the Bible. In fact, the Bible teaches that those things would seek us as we make seeking the Kingdom of God our top priority! (See Deuteronomy 28, Psalm 23:6, Matthew 6:31-33) However, we can’t make seeking the Kingdom of God our top priority if we don’t know what the Kingdom of God is! We will be just like I was as a little boy, trying to help my father. I can’t count the number of times he told me to bring him a pair of pliers, but I ended up bringing him a pair of wire-cutters instead!

All Dogs ‘Don’t’ Go To Heaven

all dogsIn an age of political correctness and moral inclusiveness, talk of the concept of Hell is passé and distasteful, even in the church and in religious circles. It seems that there is a prevailing belief today that it does not matter what is done in life or what type of life one may live, when one dies; there is an automatic admission into Heaven. In other words, the prevailing belief is that all dogs go to Heaven!

I was confronted with this common belief that everyone goes to Heaven when they die when I viewed a Facebook posting not too long ago. It was a memorial posting in memory of someone who had been murdered, who during their life-time, was a known drug-dealer and gang-banger. I would have passed the post up were it not for the artistic rendition of the deceased drug-dealer, hovering in the clouds with angel-wings and a gold chain around his neck! Among the many comments to the posts were comments like: “Rest in Peace Hommie!” and “I know you’re in a better place now!” Now, I am not one to judge whether or not this person actually is in Heaven or not; that’s not my call. All I’m simply saying is this: You can’t die a devil and be raised a saint! If he did not accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior, he is not resting in peace and neither is he in a better place!

I know we don’t like to talk about it, but if the Bible is true, then we must accept the fact that there are people in Hell! We must accept the fact, no matter how distasteful it might be, that all dogs DON’T go to Heaven! If that were the case, then Jesus came and died for nothing! If everybody goes to Heaven anyway, then there really is no sense in church, morality, or even right-and-wrong! If all dogs go to Heaven; the Bible and the idea of God, is a lie!

Now, people like to think that God is a God of love and that such a loving God would not send people to Hell! And they are right! That’s why the Bible says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 KJV) God loved us so much that he sent His only Begotten Son. The Son loved us so much that he gave his life on a cross. The problem today is that people want to go to Heaven on their own terms! And they are upset and they reject the idea of a Holy God who would dare to put restrictions upon their desire to live a lifestyle that is pleasing to their immoral nature!

But the bottom line is this: No matter how people try to deny it, ignore it, or explain it away; Hell is real! At least Jesus said it was! In fact, he talked more about Hell than he did about Heaven!

God and Heaven paid the ultimate price to keep us from going to Hell! So if there was no chance for us to go in the first place, then the redemption process recorded from Genesis to Revelation is one big fairy tale and if that’s true, it was also a colossal waste of time!

The greatest demonic trick of all times is deniability! Satan wants humanity to disbelieve his existence! But even if you don’t believe in something, your disbelief does not negate its reality! I’m reminded of what I heard a young man say to an old preacher! The young man said: “I don’t believe in Hell!” The old preacher replied: “Your disbelief will not keep you from going!” No! No matter how we might try to deny it or try to “angelize” people who live sinfully, the truth of the matter is this; all dogs don’t go to Heaven!

Does God ‘Need’ Us In Heaven?

heavenly cloudLet me preface this discussion by affirming the fact that, in the truest sense, God doesn’t need us or anything period! God is the All-Self-Sustaining Being! But I raise this subject in light of a post I shared recently by Pastor Robert Houston (“My Problem with Angels”). In that post, Pastor Houston beautifully lays out the premise that humans do not “morph” or are not transformed or changed into angels when they die. I concur whole-heartedly with his findings and I too am distressed and disturbed by the various false theologies that are being promoted concerning death and dying.  Now I can understand when it is coming from posts on Facebook and other social media outlets (I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen depictions on Facebook of people who have died hovering in the clouds with angel wings). But what is even more disturbing to me is some of the things I hear at funerals (Oh I’m sorry, they are not ‘funerals’ anymore, they are ‘home-going celebrations’ and ‘celebrations of life’) from preachers, pastors, and supposedly seasoned saints! I was almost floored recently when I attended a funeral service for an elderly mother of a church. The church clerk read a resolution from the church and all was going well until. . . .She read: “Whereas God, in His wise providence, decided to take out of this world a lovely flower that He needed for His Heavenly Garden. . .” I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be overly critical, but that’s just bad theology and church folks should know better!

First of all, by implication, the statement is saying that God killed or allowed the mother to die just to enhance or beautify Heaven! What a ridiculous idea! God is not in the business of taking people out of this world for Heaven’s benefit! Jesus said that he came that we might have life and that we might have that life more abundantly! Secondly, God really doesn’t need us in Heaven! In fact, we are actually of more use to God on earth than in Heaven! If God really wanted or needed us in Heaven, then it really was a waste of time and effort to create a physical world in the first place!

Now, I’m about to say something here that many orthodox and traditional theologians and church folks might gasp at: I really don’t think “Heaven” as we traditionally know of it, is God’s ultimate destination for us! Now, before you pick up rocks to stone me or call a ministerial counsel to revoke my preaching license, allow me a few moments to argue my point. If we are to take the Bible as the revelation of God, then we must deal with the reality that according to the Genesis account, death was not part of God’s original plan. According to Genesis, God created man as a combination of spirit and flesh with the intentions of man living in a physical state upon the earth forever! Death only came about as the result of sin. And death in the Bible is never extinction; it is always separation. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they immediately died spiritually (that is, they were separated from God) and they began to die physically. So my point is this; the only reason people die is because of sin, and sin and death were not part of God’s original intent!

Now, let’s fast-forward to Revelation 21, where the Apostle John talks about the culmination of the age. He said: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4 ESV) Notice in the text that John said he saw the holy city “coming down out of heaven.” Where is it coming down to? The new earth! Notice also that according to the voice John heard, the dwelling place of God will be ‘with man.’ “He will dwell with them.” He makes the same statement in other words with the very next breath: “God himself will be with them as their God.” He says it three times in very short order: God will be with them! We think the ultimate goal is for us to be with God, but according to the Bible, the ultimate goal is for God to be with us!

Also, let’s consider the purpose of the resurrection. According to the Bible, the purpose of the resurrection will be to reunite the spirit/soul with the body. Now, if it’s God intent for us to spend eternity in Heaven with Him in a spiritual state without a body, then the resurrection has no purpose! Why will we need a body? Because as God made us; our bodies are part of who we are! We are not complete without our bodies! Our loved ones who have died and who are in Heaven right now, even though they are in the presence of God, they are yet incomplete because they do not have their bodies! Remember 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18? Paul told them that God would bring with Jesus those who had died in Christ. And then he says that “the dead in Christ shall rise first.” Wait a minute! Aren’t those who died in Christ that God will bring with him when he comes and the dead in Christ who shall be raise first the same people? Then how can they be brought with Christ and be raise up out of the graves at the same time? Answer: Christ will bring their spirits with Him and will resurrect their bodies from the grave. Why? To reunite their spirits with their bodies! And why will they need their bodies? Because they will spend eternity, not in a strictly spiritual state as angels in Heaven, but rather they will spend eternity on the new earth in a redeemed spiritual-physical combination, which was God’s original intent for man in the first place!

I really didn’t mean for this post to be this long, but I really wanted to bring out the point that God wants us to be in good health and live as long as possible so that we might influence people to accept His Kingdom! Our task is not just to wait, but to work while we wait! Being saved is not just about getting ‘fire insurance’ or securing a ‘Heavenly retirement package,” it’s about influencing as many people as we can, while we can, for the Kingdom of God!

No! God doesn’t ‘need’ us in Heaven! God has no needs at all! God is self-sufficient and self-sustaining! But if there is something that we can do for God, then the Bible indicates our service is more profitable now, here on earth, than in Heaven! The old hymn writer had it right when he wrote: “To serve this present age, my calling to fulfill! Oh may it all, my power engage, to do my Master’s will!”   

The Mission of Jesus

Mission of JesusTraditional Christian thought has maintained that the mission of Jesus was to go to the Cross and die for the sins of mankind, thereby, providing a way for man to be reconciled to God. John 3:16, states: For God so loved the world that God gave His only Begotten-Son that whosoever believes in Him (the Son) should not perish but have everlasting life. Indeed, the mission of Jesus was one of reconciliation and restoration but I think we have traditionally not realized the full implications of that mission. We have made Jesus and the Cross the end, when according to the Bible, they were not the end but the means to the end! Now, I am in no way attempting to minimize the atoning work of Jesus on the Cross, my point is; I think we have finished the meal, leaving far too much food still on the plate! In other words, I think that traditionally, we have not fully appreciated the extent of what Jesus came to do! Traditionally, we seem to have simplified the mission of Jesus to the simple point of just providing a way for believers to go to Heaven when they die! But, it was so much more than that!

But before we look at the “so much more than that” let’s investigate the idea that Jesus was not the end but the means to the end. Who better to prove the point than Jesus himself? In John 10:7, 9, Jesus said: “I am the door.” Do you know what a door is? A door is a means of access, a thru-way, an entry-way. You don’t stop at the door because the door is not your destination! No! You go through the door to get to where you want to be! Traditionally, we have stopped at Jesus; the Door! But Jesus said; “I’m not it! I’m not your destination; I’m your means of access to get to your destination!” (Millerized Version). He said in John 14:6: “I am the way!” Again; “I’m not where you are going, I’m just the means to get you to where you’re going!” And what is the destination? Jesus is the door and the way to what? The answer is God the Father! The mission of Jesus was to provide the means and the way for us to regain access to the Heavenly Father God! Not just when we die and go to Heaven, but while we yet live everyday! Jesus said to his disciples on one occasion: “In that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. . . At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. (Joh 16:23, 26-27 KJV) Do you see that? Jesus said that at that day (When the Holy Spirit comes) believers would not have to ask him, but would have direct access to God themselves through his name! The mission of Jesus was to provide the means for us to regain an amiable and intimate relationship with God!

In the “preaching circles” I grew up in, the main focal point of the Gospel story was the Cross! But the Cross was not the destination; the Cross provided the means and removed the obstacle to the destination! Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the Cross so that we might regain access to God via the Kingdom of God! We preach the Cross, but Jesus preached the Kingdom of God! The purpose of the Cross was to deal with sin so that we might have access to the Kingdom! The purpose of the Cross was to provide cleansing and atonement so that we might again have fellowship with God. Again, I am by no means trying to minimize the importance of the Cross, I’m just simply trying to point out the fact that the Cross was not the end-goal, but the means to the end-goal! Just as Jesus was and is the “way” to the Father, the Cross was and is the “way” to gain access to the Kingdom! At this point, I think I need to bring out the point that my reference to the Kingdom is NOT synonymous with Heaven; I am referring to the Kingdom of God in reference to the power, rule, and authority of God. Hence, the mission of Jesus was to provide access to what Adam lost. Adam didn’t lose access to Heaven; Adam lost access to the dominion of the Kingdom!

The mission of Jesus was to provide a model of the Kingdom life! His favorite description of himself was “Son of Man,” indicating that although he was God, during his earthly sojourn, he functioned as a man fully indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Hence theoretically, whatever Jesus did, we also have the potential of doing! He said in John 14:12: “”Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12 ESV) In Acts 1:1, Luke wrote: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach. . .” (Act 1:1 ESV) Note that Luke said “all that Jesus ‘began’ to do and teach!” The implication seems to be that Jesus didn’t finish doing and teaching! Indeed, every generation of the church has the awesome responsibility of continuing what Jesus began to do and teach! What did Jesus do and teach? His mighty works were signs and demonstrations of the imminent presence and power of the Kingdom of God among men and much of what he taught was concerning the Kingdom of God! Hence the mission of Jesus was to be the “last Adam!” He came to live, to demonstrate and to empower us to live the life that Adam failed to live.

I don’t want to make this into a thesis on the subject, so I will come to a close at this point! But, I think it would be good for us to re-think some of our limited traditional thinking in regard to the mission of Jesus. He didn’t come to take away our sins just so we might have “pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die-in-the-sweet-by-and-by!” The mission of Jesus was so much greater than that!

Living Before We Die

Live before You DieTraditional Western Christianity and in particular, evangelical churches have done a great job in teaching and preparing people to die. But not too long ago, I received a great revelation! There is one thing we all must do before we die: We must live! And that is where modern Christianity has, for the most part, failed in preparing people. We are good at helping people to make preparations to die, but we have been tragically amiss in preparing people to live!

But the faith that is found in the Bible is all about preparing and equipping people to live! If you listen to some preachers and teachers today, you would think that the main quest of the Christian life is Heaven and that we should just suffer whatever befalls us until we die! But is that what the Bible teaches? Sure, I agree, we should not be so in love with the world that we lose sight of Heaven, but neither should we be so in love with the thought of going to Heaven that we just allow the world around us to go to Hell!

I believe it is all about balance! In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, the lesson is about waiting and being prepared for His coming. But in the Parable of the Talents, the lesson is about faithfully working, transacting Kingdom business, and making Kingdom progress until He comes! We were not saved to be idle until we die! In the Parable of the Pounds, the nobleman said to his servants: “Occupy until I come!” In other words, be about the business of life; don’t just sit idly twiddling your thumbs waiting until I come back!

Yes! While we all should prepare for the day of our transition, we should also be as equally engaged in preparing ourselves to live a life that reflects God’s love for the world and His creation: That is what the Kingdom of God/Heaven that Jesus preached about was and is all about! It’s not so much about sweet-by-and-by-pie-in-the-sky-salvation; it was and is about living life before death! The message of the Kingdom is not that we will never lose; the message of the Kingdom is that even when we do lose, God is able to turn the lost into a victory! The message of the Kingdom is that no matter what and how we suffer in this world, it’s going to be alright because we are more than conqueror through the One who loves us and gave up His life for us! No! The message of the Kingdom is not that we will always win and be happy, but it is this: No matter what happens in life; the good, the bad, and the ugly, God is working it all out for the good! And what is the “good?” It’s not prosperity, riches, fame, or living on flowery beds of ease, but rather the good is that we be conformed to the image of His Son!

So, you can’t wait to get to Heaven? Well, as my daddy used to say: “Hold your horses buddy!” We were not saved just so we could go to Heaven when we die; we were also saved so that we might be ambassadors of the Kingdom and instruments of God’s righteousness upon the earth while we live! If we would just learn how to live the life that God has ordained for us to live upon the earth; dying and going to Heaven would take care of themselves! But remember! Before we die; we must live! And if we want to go to Heaven when we die, then we must allow His Kingdom to come into our lives, that is allow His sovereign rule and authority to be manifested in word, thought and action in our lives while we live!