Not-Kingdom

Every dog has his day.

As it turns out, every Doug has his day as well.  Such was the case for me last Friday at my congregation’s annual retreat (which for some reason we call an advance).  We invite other congregations to this advance, which we hold at the beautiful Alliance Redwoods campground.   We had men from at least four congregations there, maybe even more (I didn’t know everyone so I’m not sure where they all were from).

The theme I wanted us to focus on at this advance was “Lead Us Not Into Temptation”, one of the petitions our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to make in His “Model Prayer” in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4 (also called “the Lord’s Prayer” and “the Our Father”).  I’ve been praying this prayer for years and have found that this particular petition has had a huge impact on my life.  I thought it and it’s mirror-image petitions found in other parts of the Bible (“He leadeth me beside still waters”, Psalm 23; “Lead us in the way everlasting”, Psalm 139) would be as helpful for the men as it was for me, so that’s what we talked about.  I took the “negative” in the first session, allowing the other pastors to speak on the “positives” on Saturday.  Here are my notes for that Friday night session:

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As you can see, there isn’t a lot there for a 45 minute talk.  I basically “free form it” at the advance, just talking from a rough outline.  It isn’t hard to do as I’m always talking about discipleship, which is just the way I live and thus fairly easy to talk about without advance preparation.  The fact that the men usually interrupt me with questions and other ideas helps keep it moving, too.

During that lecture time, I came up with a phrase that I hadn’t engineered beforehand.  That phrase was “not-Kingdom”.  I came up with that as I was trying to explain that Jesus’ concern about not falling into temptation and/or walking in the way everlasting is not an example of “hand-wringing morality” (as I’ve often heard it called) but rather about “living into the Kingdom”.  I use the phrase “living into the Kingdom” a lot.  But that night, as I tried to express the same beautiful concept, I just somehow said “Jesus wants us to stay away from everything that is ‘not-Kingdom’.”

And the men loved that phrase.  One of the speakers the next day told the entire group that was the best thing I said that night (I thought I said some other worthy things as well, but, hey, I’ll take it!), and one of our guys told me last night he’s been thinking of that all week.  So that was the preacher equivalent of a home run.

But there is more to that phrase than just crowd-pleasing.  There is a truth there, a truth which is fairly foundational to discipleship.  This really is what sin is: something that is “not-Kingdom”, not like Christ, not of God, and thus detrimental, destructive, etc.  This really is why Jesus and God emphasize it so much, why They want us to stay away from or out of it so badly: it is the opposite of Them and Their ways.

And when you understand it that way, not only does the phrase “Lead us not into temptation” make more sense, but discipleship itself makes more sense.  It makes complete sense that God would want us to not walk in the things that are not-Kingdom/not-Him and to walk in the things that are-Kingdom/are-Him.  We’re not talking archaic patriarchal repression here (or any of the other silly things call the way of God).  We’re talking Kingdom here.  We’re talking God and the ways of God and the things of God.  We’re talking about what is right and good and healthy.

And it’s not just that understanding which is helpful.  It is that prayer/petition which is helpful.  I have greatly helped by praying to God “lead me out of what is not Kingdom”, whether that is obvious things like sexual immorality or less obvious things like anger, selfishness, competition, etc.  I have been greatly helped by praying to God “lead me into green pastures and beside still waters/lead me in the way everlasting”, whether that be obvious things like purity or less obvious things like peace-making, humility, acceptance.  It really has changed my life for the better.

I think it can do the same for us all.  “Not-Kingdom” might be a crude phrase, but it is a great one nonetheless, a phrase that reminds me who I am and what my life in Christ is all about.

 

Poured In, Pour Out

I don’t do champagne.  I don’t really have a moral or spiritual objection to it.  I have more of a caloric objection to it.  If I’m going to drink calories, I’d rather them be Pepsi calories.

In fact, I’ve never even been around champagne that much.  I’ve seen it a few times at weddings, but that’s about it.  I’ve never seen a champagne tower, either.  I’ve never seen one in real life, anyway.  But I have seen pictures of them, and I find them endlessly interesting.

As a kid learning about life through the television (or maybe that should be mislearning about life through the television), I was interested in champagne towers because they were intrinsic and luxurious.  They were life a high-life puzzle toy, and that was incredibly appealing to me at the time.  As an adult follower of Jesus Christ, I am interested in them for an altogether different reason.  I am interested in them because they are a fairly good analogy for the following of Jesus Christ.  They are are fairly good metaphor or illustration of what the following of Jesus Christ is and how it works.

A champagne tower has at least two elements which make it such a good analogy of the following of Jesus Christ.  First, a champagne tower is, to paraphrase Paul, “a unit made up of many parts” (1 Corinthians 12:12, NIV 1984).  The tower is not only a grouping of individuals  but an actual interlocking of those individuals.  The individuals (in this case, individual glasses) are not just together but interwoven, interconnected, in actual, legitimate relationship with one another.  Second, a champagne tower operates in a top-down manner.  The contents, the valuable thing the glasses contain (in this case, champagne), is passed from the first glass down to the glasses below it.  The first glass overflows what it has into the the glasses underneath it, and those glasses in turn overflow what they have received from the first glass into the glasses underneath them.

And this is indeed what following Jesus is like and how following Jesus operates.  Jesus had something good.  He had the Kingdom of God.  He had the ways, the means, the values, the heart, the mind, the essence and substance of the Kingdom of God.  He overflowed that to others.  He particularly overflowed that to twelve others but also overflowed it to a few additional people.  He also, I believe, continues to overflow it to us today.  So Jesus overflows into us; He fills us with the Kingdom He has.  Others overflow into us as well.  As we interact with other believers, they likewise pour into us; we take or receive Kingdom from them.  And then we overflow or pour that Kingdom into others ourselves.  And so the Kingdom flows from the top down through all the interlocking individuals.

Maybe a champagne tower will be a part of your New Year celebration.  Maybe it won’t (I can guarantee it won’t be a part of mine; my congregation holds a “Clean and Sober” New Year’s Eve party which is led by our recovery individuals, and they don’t allow any alcohol; we will instead have Martinelli’s sparkling apple juice).  Whether you do or don’t, I hope you will see that this is how following Jesus works, how the Kingdom spreads in you as well as from you.  And I hope you will participate in that in the new year.  I hope you will allow yourself to be poured into not only by Jesus but by other believers, and I hope that you will likewise pour out into other believers yourself.