Kingdom of God

Zion: the player, the city, the kingdom

Come fathers and mothers,
Come sisters and brothers,
Come join us in singing the praises of Zion.
O fathers, don’t you feel determined
To meet within the walls of Zion?
We’ll shout and go round
The walls of Zion. – John G. McCurry

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I have thrown three of my recent experiences into a blender and have come up with a blog post called Zion: the player, the city, the kingdom. There are three parts to this post: the first being a player named Zion Williamson, the second being a a city called La Mision, and the third being the Kingdom of God as depicted in the book of Psalms. I think that’s enough eclecticism to get a bunch of people to look at the post and just three of you to finish reading it. But those who finish will find just what all the buzz is about Zion: the player, the city, and the kingdom. So, here we go!

Zion: the player

Zion Williamson is expected by almost all parties to be the number one pick in the NBA Draft coming up Thursday, June 20th. He is the most anticipated player to come into the draft since LeBron James was drafted in 2003, 16 years ago. We had the normal process of NBA teams being bad on purpose in order to get Zion, though a new percentage distribution for the bad team made it less certain this year that it would result in landing the number one pick.

What makes a team lose on purpose? The belief that what is coming next is better than what they have today. Teams have placed their hopes on future promise becoming reality today. In this respect, Zion is sure to answer these hopes. The team that gets Zion Williamson will immediately be better than they were before getting him. He’s that kind of player, who will instantly make his team better for the foreseeable future. He won’t disappoint. And he will help a team (now probably the New Orleans Pelicans) make there future promise a reality today.

Zion: the city

I saw something similar to this in La Mision, BC, Mexico over the weekend. I was there on a mission trip with the men’s group from my church, La Habra Christian Church. We connected with Jim from Strong Tower, DJ from the Orphanage, Brendan from Siloe, and Eddie from Calvary Chapel Liberty Ranch. Here, I saw future promise becoming a reality today. Though, there was a stark difference in the process. The people we connected with in La Mision weren’t losing on purpose to win later. They weren’t hoping things got really bad so that the could luck out with a draft and be better next year. They weren’t waiting for a Savior to come. They already have one. As Brendan’s dad shared in a message at Calvary Chapel, “You don’t need a deliver. You already have one.”

The people that we connected with in La Mision believe that Jesus Christ has already come to deliver. He is the key to making future promise reality today. In fact, Jim, DJ, Brendan, and Eddy have already started to realize future promise in the here and now. Hope isn’t far off! Instead, through work at Casa de Mana, Door of Faith Orphanage, the Siloe Clinic, and Calvary Chapel Liberty Ranch, the people in La Mision are seeing God’s reality become our reality today, not some day in the future! And the city is being changed.

Zion: the kingdom

The idea of God’s reality becoming our reality is what is behind the Biblical teaching of Zion. Zion is mentioned in the Bible over 150 times, sometimes referring to the specific city of Jerusalem and sometimes referring to the heavenly city of God. In fullness, Zion refers to both. It is, as N.T. Wright says, “the intersection of God’s space and our space, of heaven and earth.” In other words, it’s the place where God’s reality becomes our reality.

The encouraging teaching from the Bible about Zion is that we don’t have to tank for God’s reality to become our reality. We don’t have to get worse and worse in order to luck out for the draft some day. We already have a deliver, whose name is Jesus. 2 Peter 1:3-4 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” We already have everything we need to live in Zion, for God’s promise to be reality today. 

Zion is the place where God lives and people thrive with Him.

Zion is the place where God reigns as King and people benefit from His commands.

Zion is the place where God builds His Kingdom and we are placed brick by brick.

We change. The city changes. The world changes. And all of it happens today.

So we say with John G. McCurry,

Come fathers and mothers,
Come sisters and brothers,
Come join us in singing the praises of Zion.
O fathers, don’t you feel determined
To meet within the walls of Zion?
We’ll shout and go round
The walls of Zion.

This is what I’ve learned from zion: the player, the city, the kingdom. It’s what Jim, DJ, Brendan, and Eddie taught me this weekend. I want to go to Zion. I’ll meet you there, where God’s reality becomes our reality today.

Setting a Table for the Whole World

 

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As Christians, we must decide if we will set a table as though the whole world is invited to feast. While there is no evidence that all will feast (though one can hope), the hopeful Christian must live as though the whole world is at minimum invited.

The parables of Jesus were one such place where large crowds were given a taste of what the Kingdom of God and its feast are like. These stories have a real place in the actual, crowded world. Jesus’ answers (often given in questions) have teeth that penetrate the hearts of mankind. Or, as Mike Erre puts it, “The Gospel Isn’t Just Something that exists somewhere in people’s hearts. It has edges and can actually impact the world.”

Sadly, today’s church can often feel like an exclusive dinner where only a few privileged souls have a place at the table. Often times, we leaders in the church can act more like gatekeepers than bridge-builders. If you are an invited guest (long time attender or member), you may be more interested in reserving your usual seat than making room for a visitor. If you are an outsider (first time visitor), you may be wondering if it is okay that you are even at church. 

Things would look a lot different if we as the church intended for people very different from us to have an invitation to the Table. D.A. Carson writes,

“Ideally the church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything of the sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In the light of this common allegiance, in light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says—and he commands them to love one another. In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.”

The parable of the foolish rich man puts much of this conversation in extreme focus. The situation is that there is a crowd of people following Jesus and looking to see what He is all about. One of the people in the crowd fires a question at Jesus about how an inheritance should be divided between him and his brother. Jesus answers the question with another question and gives a stern warning about the effects of greed.

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” – Jesus

Then, Jesus launches into a story about the foolish rich man who didn’t quite know what to do with all of his wealth. (Talk about a “first world problem”: I just don’t know what to do with all this money I have!)

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

A pair of thoughts about this parable in Luke 12:16-19: First, life as God intended it includes abundant harvest. The desire of God is that your labor results in rich harvest. Unfortunately, a fallen world means that this is not always the case. The result is that there are times for celebration and times for sorrow, times where sowing results in harvest and times when sowing does not result in harvest.

Second, in the times where the harvest is plenty, there are foolish solutions and wise solutions. As we see in the parable, the foolish rich man concludes that he should build a bigger place to store his wealth. That we he can take life easy and live off the fat of the land.

At this, Jesus puts God into the parable (this is rare!). God asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” In other words, all the stuff in the world will do you no good the eternity that comes after this life. The stuff is only good in this life and can be used properly or not.

I know a man who is in the later years of his life and is trying to give away money as wisely as possible. This is a man who understands that he will not be able to see his stuff used for eternity after he has left this world (though his stuff may, in fact, continue to be used this way!).

When God asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” he gets to the heart of the matter. Will we use our stuff for eternal purposes or not? And, who has access? Who is invited?

Jesus indicates that there is a better way, a properly wise solution to the issue of excess. And, there is a God (even a Father) who enters the situation to give direction to the “divided brothers.”

In God’s economy, He is to be remembered in the midst of all the stuff. Proverbs 30:8-9 says,

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

In other words, we must remember God whether we have much or have plenty (see Paul in Philippians 4:11-13). And it is actually better to have just what we need for the day (see Exodus 16 and Matthew 6:11). We must remember God in our stuff.

Also, we must be willing to share our stuff with all people. There is a reason that God instructed the people of Israel not to harvest the edges of their fields during the Festival of Weeks. Leviticus 23:22 reads,

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”

In other words, God desired that the outsider would have room at the table. God desired that those who see themselves as gatekeepers would actually become bridge-builders so that insiders would become room-makers and outsiders would belong. We are to share our stuff with people, as though the whole world is invited to the feast.

Lastly, we do this so that we can live in abundance together. It is no accident that Jesus makes mention of great feasts in Luke 14 and 22. And, it is not accident that Revelation 19 tells of the marriage supper of the Lamb. God intends for his people to feast together for all eternity. John 10:10 indicates that the devil sought to steal, kill, and destroy while Jesus came that we might have life in abundance. The abundant life may not necessarily include an abundance of things, but we are foolish to think that God’s abundant life doesn’t impact our things.

Scripture tells of an eternal feast with God. Our things on earth can be used to set a table for the whole world. Let’s remember God in our stuff, share our stuff with all people, and live in abundance together.

(This is a post in which I may stolen lines from or hopefully accurately paraphrased Mike Erre. Thankfully, Mike has publicly given permission for anyone to do this. My hope is that I have not altogether misquoted Mike or acted boorishly like a Wolverines or Spartans football fan.)