There was something specific He led me to pursue, something big and crazy that only He could bring about. Although it thrust me into waters deeper than I felt equipped to navigate, after much prayer and seeking wise counsel, I plunged forward.
For several months, the path was remarkably straight and smooth. I prayed that if this particular path was not going to lead to His best for me, that He would stop me and show another direction to go, but step after step propelled me forward and everything was falling into place. I prayed all year that I would want Him more than I wanted this dream, even as I prayed that He would indeed bring this dream to fruition. As pieces continued fitting smoothly into the puzzle, I grew more and more excited, and it seemed like this extremely unlikely dream was really going to come true. Until the day when He clearly said, “This far, no further. This journey has come to a stop.”
It was rather sudden, and it was through an abrupt message delivered by someone who showed absolutely no compassion whatsoever for the fact that she had just crushed my dream. I was devastated. I was angry. I was sad. But most of all, I was confused. Had I totally misinterpreted what God was leading me to do? Hadn’t He led me down this road from the beginning? And, whispering around my heart in my darkest moments was the question that came from the raw, aching, most vulnerable part of my soul: Isn’t He good?
Those places that believe we could have orchestrated things better for ourselves. Just like the luminol used by forensic investigators to find hidden traces of blood at a crime scene, suffering shines its light on our heart until the hidden traces of unbelief show up. Traces of blood at a crime scene emit a strange glow under the spotlight of the luminol, which is eerie because that blood is obviously out of place and it means that something very wrong has happened there. Similarly, when suffering illuminates hidden places of unbelief in our hearts, it is jarring. That unbelief is obviously out of place in the heart of a child of God, and it means that something is very wrong there.
Many of us are drawn like magnets to stories of saints who have suffered well. Their stories intrigue us, inspire us, and at the same time, they bewilder us. How can one endure such great magnitudes of suffering and still have peace, still trust God, still shine?
This is so baffling because so many of us do not suffer well. When afflictions come our way, we far too often fall immediately into anguish, distrust, murmuring, and discontent. As Puritan pastor Jeremiah Burroughs stated in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, “We are usually apt to think that any condition is better than that condition in which God has placed us.” When afflictions come, we start thinking of all the ways God could and should have done better by us. This is the unbelief shining its ugly light in the corners of our hearts.
Do you really believe that God is good? Do you really believe that He is sovereignly working all things in your life for your good, to conform you to the image of His Son? Then you must rest in Him during times of affliction in quiet trust that He is good and does all things well. A murmuring, discontented heart—no matter how great the affliction—is evidence of unbelief.
Remember the Israelites in the desert. After the Lord’s judgment for the rebellion of Korah, the people complained.
But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD.” –Numbers 16:41
Now, grumbling doesn’t seem like it would be a huge issue, as sins go. However, just a few verses later, we see the Lord saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” The plague had begun and before Moses could make proper atonement for this grievous sin of grumbling among the people, 14,700 of them were killed by God. Grumbling is indeed a very big deal. In fact, in Numbers 17:10, God calls them rebels.
Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against Me, lest they die.
This is sobering indeed. A heart of discontent is a heart refusing to submit to God. A murmuring, complaining heart is one that does not believe the promises of God. When all is well, we are quick to claim God’s promises and even to encourage others to claim them when they are suffering. But are we as quick to claim them when suffering comes to us? Whether your affliction is small or great, life-changing or merely a bump in the road, will you meet it with a quiet, steadfast heart that clings to belief in the God who promises to never forsake you?
This succinctly summarizes the root of all sin. At the bottom of the sewer pit of sin we find the culprit of unbelief and its composition is a lie about God and self. All unbelief in the human heart believes two lies: God is not as good as He says, and I’m better than I am. Almost 2,000 years ago, the Apostle Paul said that mankind’s depravity owes itself to the fact that humanity has “exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:25).
To believe a lie about God is also believing a lie about one’s self. This is Paul’s assertion. The moment you stop believing something that is true about the Creator, you start believing something that is false about the creation. To worship the creature is to believe that the creation is worthy of such, and that assumes God alone is not worthy. And whatever you worship you will serve.
This gets to the heart of all temptation—unbelief. When you pay close attention to Satan’s strategy in the temptation of Eve, you will note the same strategy used against us all. His plan rested on one thing—getting Eve to stop believing the truth about God and believe a lie about her Maker.
Some have conjectured that the devil misquoted God to register in Eve’s mind doubt that God had given a prohibition of eating from the tree of good and evil. But that is not the strategy of the enemy. The Lord told Adam that he could eat from every tree in the garden, except one.
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” -Genesis 2:16-17
Satan’s question turns the positive permission of God to eat of every tree into a negative. He insinuates that God is a restrictive killjoy not allowing the first couple to enjoy the excellent fruit of every tree.
Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” -Genesis 3:1
Secondly, the devil lies and contradicts God’s word, “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die’” (Genesis 3:4). Again, he strikes the same note that God cannot be trusted. He then opens Eve’s mind to the possibility that she is suffering the loss of something good because God is unkind, and wants everything for Himself. He lies again, “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). The whole lie spins around the assertion that God is not good. He doesn’t want you to determine good and evil for yourself because then you will not be dependent upon Him. You will be your own god; you will be like Him.
This is the exchange of the truth of God for the lie. What is the result? The worship and service of self rather than the Lord God.
Thus, it is now evident why idolatry is the constant nemesis of man and God. Wherever unbelief exists, idolatry lives. It is not coincidental that the first two of the 10 Commandments deal with the sin of idolatry. It was the continual sin of Israel that led to its judgment. In the New Testament, the warning against idolatry is repeatedly trumpeted.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites. -1 Corinthians 6:9
And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” -1 Corinthians 10:7
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. -1 Corinthians 10:14
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. -Colossians 3:5
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. -1 John 5:21
The Apostle Paul knew well that if a person ceases to believe the truth about God, he or she is ruled by one or more idols. This is why he said that men “worshiped and served the creature.” Idolatry is more than the bowing down before a crafted statute representing a deity. It is the belief that something or someone can care, help, or provide for you better than the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the fuel of every sin and the lie about God that becomes the foundation of unbelief.
This is manifested not only in the ruthless and horrid crimes plastered on the front pages of newspapers but also in the niceties of religion publicized in the same newspapers and in our own churches.
So much of evangelical Christianity is our idolatrous attempt to serve man-made gods promising a better experience. God is no longer believed to give us what we need. He is no longer worthy of waiting upon until He acts. Instead man acts, man works, man does so that man is praised. Therein, is the idolatry—man demands the glory.
He is the Gospel, the good news, of His Father. There is no Gospel apart from the Lord Jesus, He is the sum of all God has done to redeem sinners. But mankind with supernatural help has reduced the Gospel to a few simple facts about Jesus and mental assent to those facts. I say supernatural because I believe the enemy of our souls, Apollyon, the devil, has his malevolent hand in the corruption of men’s understanding of the Gospel.
The Gospel is larger than the doctrine of justification by faith or how to gain eternal life when you die. It is about possessing eternal life now; it is about entrance into a kingdom, the kingdom of God’s dear Son. When Jesus came on the scene preaching, His message was not a Reader’s Digest condensed version about the forgiveness of sins. It included that but was much more. The Scripture says of our Lord’s first preaching, “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15).
The hors d’oeuvres may be wonderful but they are designed to increase the longing and desire for the meal to come. You don’t make a meal out of spinach dip and crackers. Yet many pastors proclaim a gospel that focuses on what I call the fringe benefits of the Gospel. They are as follows: cancelling our sin debt and getting heaven when we die. Like the appetizers, the benefits of this Gospel are superb, but there is something even better than these. At the heart and soul of the Gospel is reconciliation with God Himself; being united in communion with the Lord Jesus.
Jesus did not think in narrow terms of salvation as we do; He saw the good news encompassing a great deal more. It was the announcement of a kingdom come, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matthew 9:35). The Lord said the end would not come until “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
They said their preaching was about God’s kingdom. In Acts 8:12 it said of the ministry of Philip, “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.” Luke describes the preaching of the Apostle Paul as, “reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8).
The evangel of our preaching is not only the assurance of the kingdom of God when you die but entrance into the kingdom when you believe upon God’s only begotten Son. The Gospel is not about preparing people to die as much as it is preparing them to live, and live now.
The genre of the New Testament doctrine of salvation is entrance into a kingdom now but not yet. In other words, the kingdom of God is current and it is here. It is a spiritual realm we enter presently by faith, but the kingdom it is not yet a physical reality. One day it will manifest itself in the material realm. The good news that Christ and His apostles gladly proclaimed was that the poor and broken could enter into that kingdom now before it has materialized on the earth. This is why Jesus began His great Sermon on the Mount (a sermon about how the subjects of the kingdom live), “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). It is theirs now; they have entered it, that is, if they believe that Christ has opened the kingdom to them by His redemptive life and death.
Jesus was not preaching that if Nicodemus would believe and be born again that when he died he would see and enter the kingdom. No, Jesus was explaining that it is by the new birth that a man can see and enter now.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” -John 3:3,5
For more on this ministry transition, click here.
For more on this ministry transition, click here.
For more on this ministry transition, click here.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on it or all that it encompasses but Scripture does give some lanterns to guide us to a biblical understanding of diversity and how it relates to the kingdom. And what we know for certain is that the kingdom is diverse because God is the most diverse Person the universe has ever known.
First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page with what diversity means. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
DIVERSE = Differing from one another; composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities
We’re given a clue in Genesis when God promised Abraham he would be the father of many nations, which foreshadowed how Jesus would be the light for the nations so that salvation would reach to the end of the earth (Genesis 17:4, Isaiah 49:6).
A meeting of the United Nations is not comprised of people who look the same or approach life in the same manner. They are not carbon copies of each other, nor are they trying to be. When the UN gathers at its headquarters in Manhattan, the world is given a tiny glimpse of the beauty, safety, and wisdom found in diversity.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” –Revelation 7:9-10
Diversity bespeaks the Gospel. Where else do you find people of every stripe, language, background, and vocation blended together in a joyful concoction of beauty and unity?
Thanks to the Tower of Babel, the human race has more colors than a Bob Ross painting. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but the point is there. We have a variety of colors and it all stems back to when God sent out the earth’s limited population to diverse places around the globe.
But, in a tactical maneuver calculated before the foundations of the earth, He would not leave them scattered. When the Son of God became a man, He came with the purpose of gathering and reconciling His multicolored, multicultural, multifaceted bride and presenting her faultless before the throne.
Newsflash: His mission did not fail.
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came One like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. –Daniel 7:13-14
The kingdom is populated with different cultures, castes, and countries. It’s peppered with people raised in different environments and contexts, climates and neighborhoods.
Jews, Gentiles, people from the Far East, people from poverty-stricken third world countries, billionaires from Wall Street. Thieves, murderers, Pharisees, drunkards, tax collectors. Physically attractive, physically unappealing (see: Jesus, Isaiah 53:2), people we hold in high regard, and people we disagree with.
And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are You to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
God’s empire is one body made up of different parts with each part, like the human body, having a different role and function. However, in Jesus’ body there are no negotiable parts. There will never be an emergency surgery to remove spleens or tonsils, appendixes or gall bladders, because each part serves a strategic purpose and each one is here to stay.
Through these different parts, Jesus’ personality is displayed in varied ways. If we were all alike, not only would our lives be incredibly boring but Jesus wouldn’t be fully demonstrated in the most vibrant way.
There’s a reason we all look different and have varying personality types with different weaknesses, strengths, temptations, talents, and abilities. Each of those things tells us something about Jesus in a particular way that reveals more of His person than we could see on our own.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. –Romans 12:4-8
From the very beginning, God made us different. Adam and Eve, different and unique, varied and distinct. Yet the same God took what was diverse, scattered, and fragmented and made it into one. Jesus is the creative genius that takes what is plural and makes it singular.
Though Abraham was promised to be the father of many nations, the covenant was made to one nation (Genesis 12:2, Exodus 19:6); a race of new creations reconciled through a costly sacrifice after their story started with a fall. Perhaps Creator God blowing into a handful of dirt specks to make one body wasn’t a one-time event.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. –Ephesians 4:15-16
For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one Man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. –Romans 5:19
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. –1 Corinthians 12:13
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. –1 Peter 2:9
That marvelous light is the earmark of God’s empire. And His empire is here. Jesus even taught us to pray “on earth as it is in heaven.” Heaven isn’t comprised of one color. Heaven doesn’t speak one language. Heaven isn’t full of one personality type. Jesus didn’t die for a white church. He didn’t die for a black church. He didn’t die for a church full of pastors. He didn’t die for a church full of moms or car salesmen, writers or musicians. He didn’t die for a church full of blue-eyed athletes, teachers, or homeless people.
As Scripture has proven time and again, Jesus died for every tribe, tongue, and nation, and He did so in a way that meant only He could reap the glory when He made them all into one race, with one background: sin, and one future: grace.
She insisted that she only wanted to play with it and would return it when finished, but with every petition she heard the same answer: “No!”
All parents have witnessed this scene with their children. Even if they have only one child, they’ve seen his or her exercise of dominion. The unwillingness to share is more than the symptom of the fall; it’s also a demonstration of a child’s innate understanding of a kingdom.
This is perhaps the best way for Westerners who know nothing about monarchies to understand what a kingdom is; it is the effective exertion of will. It is the realm in which a person can enforce his or her desire. Geo-politically, a kingdom is the dominion of a monarch’s ability to impose resolve and execute decisions. His territory extends as far as implementation of his will extends.
Therefore, when Tommy exerts his will over his sister’s, it is an example of his kingdom, albeit a small one. That is perhaps why a child’s favorite word is no; we enjoy the wielding of power, even though the power has little consequence. “No” gives the child the sense of control within his juvenile realm.
The extent to which a person can impose his will is to the borders of his empire. Even the poor peasant that was subject to the king had a mini-kingdom where he had limited authority.
When Jesus came on the scene of His generation, the Apostle Matthew says that “Jesus went about all Galilee . . . preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). He was declaring the good news about a kingdom—the kingdom of God.
What is the kingdom of God and what does it mean when the Bible speaks of the Gospel of the kingdom? These are some of the most important questions we can ask.