Dave Black on Matt 6:33

Dave Black reflected on his blog about what Jesus might have meant when he said “seek first the kingdom of God.”  I thought it was really good and wanted to share with you here:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

7:15 AM Jesus repeatedly emphasized that following Him meant radically changing our priorities. What did He mean when He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God”? Here are some ideas:

1) Seek first the kingdom of God vocationally. Ask tough questions about your employment. Are you where God wants you to be? If so, are you using your occupation to advance God’s kingdom?

2) Seek first the kingdom of God maritally. Have a Great Commission Marriage. Put the kingdom first in your married and family life.

3) Seek first the kingdom of God geographically. The issue of where we live has everything to do with the kingdom. Let’s be open to God’s guidance. Unlike our secular counterparts, we can no longer select a place to live based merely on comfort, affordability, good schools, etc.

4) Seek first the kingdom of God ecclesiologically. I strongly urge you to find a church home that shares your urgency for the kingdom and global missions. Traditional wisdom dictates that we are to seek a church on the basis of buildings, programs, convenience, and, regrettably, personalities. As a result, church life becomes inwardly-focused, and we fail to become the presence of the kingdom in society. When Becky and I joined our church in Roxboro, NC, we did so largely because of its clear and consistent vision to be a part of the kingdom initiative of God. It seeks to manifest the values of Jesus’ upside-kingdom. It gives high priority to missions. Our goal is to strive as authentically as  possible to incarnate the life and teachings of Jesus in our corporate and individual lives.

5) Seek first the kingdom of God financially. Jesus calls us to avoid the rat race of consumerism and materialism. Let’s reexamine our lifestyles to see how we can free up dollars for the kingdom.

6) Seek first the kingdom of God physically. Obesity and self-indulgence characterize many American evangelicals. It never occurs to us that avoiding overeating is a way to serve the kingdom. As disciples we are called to set aside physical comfort and devote our bodies to God as living sacrifices. I struggle constantly to keep my weight under control. But I must maintain good physical condition if I am to be able to walk long distances in Ethiopia.

7) Seek first the kingdom of God ministerially. Every believer is a fulltime “minister.” Churches can do much more to utilize qualified volunteers who essentially pay themselves to serve. We must change the emphasis in our churches from hiring professional staff to equipping “laypeople” to be the church.

8) Seek first the kingdom of God institutionally. Let’s ask, “How can we use our corporate resources most effectively and sacrificially for the kingdom?” Take our church buildings. Surely we can do a better job in constructing and utilizing church properties so as to channel more resources into missions and service to the needy. I once read of a congregation of 4,000 in Oregon that, instead of building a new sanctuary, established a separate corporation to build a self-supporting convention hall that the church uses free of charge. Another example: Missionary organizations can separate overhead costs from money raised for missionaries. In other words, money contributed to missionary causes would go entirely to these causes, while all overhead costs (including salaries for executives) would be raised separately.

9) Seek first the kingdom of God intellectually. Has Christ’s lordship had any effect on your thought life? What you read? Your attitudes? Sometimes it is easier to read books about the Scriptures than to read the Scriptures themselves. What makes us think that commentaries or websites are more important than the Word of God? We neglect the Bible to our own peril. I often remind my students that 99 percent of what I know about God and the Christian life I learned from reading my Bible rather than books about the Bible. God does not ask us to forego reading books by human authors (goodness, I’ve written my share of them), but His lordship is not visible in our lives until we prioritize His Word.

These are some practical ways by which we can seek first the kingdom of God. I’m sure many others could be mentioned. Seeking first the kingdom of God means that our time, our money, our very selves are available to God, to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to the world. It’s not a matter of simply attending church or participating in endless rounds of programs. It’s about changing the world by becoming what Jesus intended the church to be: a servant to the world. “The church is only the church when it exists for others,” said Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Christ calls us to pour our lives into the needy world that surrounds us. He promises us that as we do this, we will find that His yoke of service is easy and His burden is light. If you live this way, you will find His promise — as Becky and I have — to be true.

I’ll tell ya, I really like how Dave thinks!  To be sure, he is such a blessing to those who know him, are in his classes and or read his blog.

Blessings,

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Guest post on the Daughters of Zelophehad

The who?  🙂  Today is International Women’s Day and Debbie has written a post about some hero women in the Bible!

Daughters of Zelophehad: Spiritual Mothers of the Ancient Near East

Recently human trafficking, sex trade, prostitution rings, and the mistreatment of women and children have gained international attention. In various parts of the world, women struggle to even be treated as humans. The book and documentary, “Half the Sky” revealed the inhumanities done to women and now considers itself a movement against the oppression of women worldwide.[1]

The injustices done against women are anything but new. In the Mishneh Torah, boys and men were encouraged to pray this ‘blessing’ each morning,

“Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has not made me a non-Jew. Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has not made me a woman. Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has not made me a servant.”[2]

Whether or not one argues this ‘blessing’ actually validates the beautiful role of women in the Jewish faith and culture, the reality of the human heart has turned it into a curse and bondage. Inadvertently or intentionally, it leaves a woman feeling she is ‘less than’ her male counterpart.

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(photo taken from Convoy of Hope facebook page)

A Biblical Example: Daughters of Zelophehad

This was the context and culture of five sisters who lived in the Ancient Near East. On International Women’s Day, these sisters are heroines of the faith. Their story is actually found in the Bible. Numbers 27 talks about the daughters of Zelophehad. They had just buried their father. They lived in a time where women did not hold positions of honor or receive inheritances. Expectations of women were to work in home or in the fields.[3] Because of their gender, they received nothing. All their possessions they had known and grown up with was no longer rightfully theirs after their father passed on. What must have it felt like to lose everything after burying a loved one?

Numbers 27:1-4 reads,

The daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah. They came forward and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting and said, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the Lord, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.[4]

Bold Prayers2

Legally these five sisters received nothing, but they knew something had to be done. They wanted to receive their property, their inheritance promised to their forefathers and their family for generations.  They decided to come together and ask for an inheritance. Against all odds and against everything they asked.

It is also possible Zelophehad, their father, was a criminal. He may have died receiving the death penalty for a sin he committed. Notice the distinction made in verse 3 when they speak about their father’s death. “He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the Lord, but he died for his own sin.”

These daughters not only lived without any property or inheritance rights, but they lived under the shadow of their father’s sin. For them to come and ask for an inheritance was huge. They had to come and stand before the same people who possibly condemned their father.

Without batting an eye they asked for their inheritance boldly. Numbers 27:5-11 discloses their sheer determination.

“Give us property from among our father’s relatives. So Moses brought their case before the Lord: and the Lord said to him, “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right.” You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them. “Say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance to his daughter. If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers.11 If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan, that he may possess it. This is to have the force of law for the Israelites, as the Lord commanded Moses.”

What happened as they went before the assembly boldly and asked for their inheritance? In this text, they are granted their request but God also changed the culture and their governing laws concerning women. Later on in Scripture we find out they received their inheritance and then some. Because they asked boldly, they received ten tracts of land for their inheritance. These sisters left a legacy for their daughters and grandchildren.

734585_10151399973829681_583031258_n(photo taken from Convoy of Hope facebook page)

I struggled with this passage. It is an obscure passage in the middle of nowhere. Take a right turn after Leviticus and a left-turn before Deuteronomy to Numbers. Rarely will you hear any inspiring, vision casting, turn or burn sermons from this little known book in the Old Testament. When I read over it, I almost missed it. But I had never heard this story before about these sisters. And the more I read, the more it got my attention.

Is this small story about the five sisters overcoming obstacles? That reason in itself could preach! Is it about these confident and self-assured women leaving their past behind them, and moving forward to better things? They were definitely not their father, they were women of integrity. Was it about injustices and God making that which was unjust, just? All of us have experienced injustice in this world and some of us have experienced it more than others. Is it about claiming their ancestral land? We do not know how many days, months or even years passed between their father’s passing to when they were able to receive and use their actual inheritance – their tracts of land.

Still if you narrow it down to all of these, there is still something missing.

What’s Missing?

After long hours of studying this passage and crying out to God, I realized it was right there! And if you aren’t careful, anyone can miss it. This text is actually about prayer and going boldly before God. Moses is a type of mediator between God and man. As a mouthpiece for God, he stood as an example of One who was to come! Hebrews 3:1-2 proclaims,

“Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses.”

This story about the five daughters of Zelophehad is about prayer! Prayer that moves mountains, prayer that is truly sacrificial and thinks not of the present situation, but asks boldly with faith. It took them everything to go before Moses and the assembly. Above all of that, they knew they stood before the one and only God, the King of the Universe. They were coming to Him with their petition.

Psalm 2:8 says,

“Ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance.”

We sing about it, we pray about it, but what does this verse mean? What is the significance of this verse when it talks about inheritance? What is this inheritance?

We are the Lord’s inheritance. You and I are part of the inheritance of faith. Yet there is more. Those people who have not yet believed, they are a part of an inheritance to come. They are our inheritance of souls we work to bring into the kingdom of God.

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(photo taken from Convoy of Hope facebook page)

Kingdom Issues

On International Women’s day, we who are followers of Christ, must understand the issues for equality are also in the church. This ongoing battle for equality is a more than a gender issue.  It is a kingdom issue.  Jesus says,

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Pray therefore that the Lord of the Harvest will send laborers into the harvest field.”

If Jesus himself said that laborers are few, why do we as his body continue to limit women in their working the fields of God’s calling?

And what is our response as women to those who place limitations in the ministry? The story of the daughters of Zelophehad is an amazing one – it is one of boldness and prayer. We too can respond through going to the Lord for the injustices we see and walking with integrity in front of others, including our accusers. With God’s help, culture can change and we can work together to bring in an inheritance of souls.

by Debbie Fulthorp

Photo on 1-31-13 at 10.47 AM

[2]http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/920169/jewish/Chapter-Seven.htm (some have also translated ‘slave’ into ‘dog’, and non-Jew would’ve been transliterated “Goyim” or another word for Gentile)

[3] John Oakes, “What Life was Like for Women of the Old Testament,”Evidence for Christianity, 2011,http://www.evidenceforchristianity.org/what-was-life-like-for-the-women-of-the-old-testamentr/ (accessed January 17, 2013).

[4] All Scripture unless otherwise noted is the updated 2011 NIV.

“May Your Kingdom Come”

Imagine a sermon that begins:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

(Matthew 5:3-5)

Blessed are those who are unemployed, blessed are those suffering terminal illness, blessed are those who are going through marital distress.

The Congregation does a doubletake.  Blessed?  Fortunate? Lucky? What kind of world is this?  In America, if you are unemployed, people treat you as if you had some sort of disease [or consider you lazy or irresponsible if it goes on too long for them].  They don’t want to catch what you have.  If your marriage is a failure, you are a failure.  That doesn’t sound very blessed.

The preacher says, “Wait.  I should have been more clear.  I wasn’t talking about your kingdoms, the kingdoms built upon success and achievement and earnest striving.  I was talking about the kingdom of God.”  In this topsy-turvy place, our values are stood on their head.  Little in this kingdom comes naturally.  It comes because God is in charge and because we are invited to be part of God’s rule.

-From, Lord Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life (Abingdon), 56.

World Christian?

Are you one?  Dave Black quotes Dan Clendenin, who, in an election year, confronts our more or less, would you call it “geo-centrism”?  Here is what is says in this blog post (in part):

           Two radical corollaries follow from the global character of God’s kingdom — the decentralization of your geography and the reorientation of your politics.

 Christians are geographic, cultural, national and ethnic egalitarians. For Christians there is no geographic center of the world, but only a constellation of points equidistant from the heart of God. Proclaiming that God lavishly loves all the world, each person, and every place, the gospel does not privilege any country as exceptional. A Bosnian Muslim is no further away from God’s love than an American Christian. A Honduran Pentecostal is no closer to God’s love than an Oxford atheist.

Much has been written lately about American exceptionalism and our global dominance. In terms of economic, political, military, scientific and cultural influence, America is unrivaled. In that sense, it’s accurate to say that America is “exceptional” (although there’s no reason to think this will last forever, or that all our influence is good). But from a theological or Christian point of view, America is no more or less “exceptional” in God’s eyes than Iceland, India, or Iraq. While allowing for a natural and wholesome love, even pride, in your own country (“there’s no place like home”), in the long run, Christian egalitarianism subverts every form of geo-political nationalism. Our ultimate citizenship, said Paul, is a spiritual one (Philippians 3:20).

Christian global vision also asks me to care as much about every country and its people as I do my own. Christians grieve the deaths of 90,000 Iraqi civilians as much as the 4,124 American soldiers killed in Iraq, or the 560 soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Christians lament the human tragedy of cyclone Nargis that killed 140,000 people in Burma, or the earthquake in the Sichuan province of China that killed 70,000 people, as much as they do that of Hurricane Katrina.

Christian globalism implies that your politics become reoriented, non-aligned, and unpredictable by normal canons. In the gospels Jesus never proposed any political program. There’s no such thing as a “Christian” politics, and efforts by both Democrats and Republicans to co-opt Jesus for their side badly distort his message. Rather, Jesus calls us to something far more radical and demanding. He asks us to do what God Himself does, as expressed in two of the most famous verses in all the Bible. He calls us to “love the whole world” (John 3:16) and “your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

Dave Black finishes out asking:

So … has your geography been de-centralized? That is, are you a world Christian? And … have your politics been reoriented? That is, does your heavenly citizenship trump your earthly?

Good questions, if you ask me.

Yes, good questions and a proper challenge.  One thing I might like to add is that perhaps one way to ensure this globalization of your faith life and practice would be to go on missions trips!  Go overseas as often as you can and for a long as you can (more than just a week – the typical “missions” trip).  Regular excursions across the boarders of your home country as often as possible will, more likely than not, easily ensure you maintain a decentralized geography when it comes to “being a Christian”!

Blessings!