Daily Prayer for July 7
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23, NIV
Lord our God, we thank you for all you have done for us, for all you are doing for us, for deliverance from need and death. We thank you for all the signs you give us that you hear our prayer when, without wavering or weakening, we set our hopes on you. We thank you that we can be without fear of sin and death, for you stand by us in everything. In spite of our imperfections you show us your goodness again and again. May the light in our hearts never be extinguished, the light that enables us to look into heaven and earth and see the good that is on its way to us today. May joy remain with us, and may we have the strength to be a community that follows the paths of life which bring praise and honor to you. Amen.
Paperwork, cleaning the house, dealing with the innumerable visitors who come all through the day, answering the phone, keeping patience and acting intelligently, which is to find some meaning in all that happens – these things, too, are the works of peace.
Source: The Catholic Worker, Dec. 1965
Verse of the Day
for Sunday, July 7, 2019
Thoughts on Today’s Verse…
Jesus taught us that worship is not about a place, but about our Father (John 4:21-24). Knowing that our Father is worshipped by the heavenly hosts should inspire us, humble us, and motivate us to do the same, no matter where we may find ourselves. Above all other qualities, God is holy. Three times the heavenly beings acknowledge his holiness — he is special, undefiled, pure, perfect, and something much more than everyday and mundane. His glory fills the earth and sky. He is bigger than all we can imagine. He is worthy of our worship, reverence, and awe.
Holy God, Holy Father, Holy King of the ages, I praise you for the wonderful gift of your grace. I know that in comparison to your glory, I am not worthy to be in your presence. But you have made me worthy and holy by the sacrificial blood of Jesus, the Lamb slain for my sins. Thank you for this incredible gift so that I may worship you as I should! In Jesus’ name I praise you. Amen.
to provide for those who mourn in Zion, to give to them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Yahweh, that he may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3 WEB
Have you ever felt so down, so lethargic, that you begin to ask yourself ‘What is the point of it all?’ There are many things in this verse but the one that I want to mention today is the ‘spirit of heaviness’, better known by its bona fide name: ‘Depression.’
It can settle on anyone given the right circumstances and none of us are immune to it. We all like to think that we have it together, but really we are just one phone call away from crying at any given moment.
Once when we were overworked and nearly burned out, we went to an exhilarating praise and worship conference that lasted for three days. After the first night, I began to feel lighter, and brighter. Each hour that we spent there seemed to bring renewal, a refreshing of our spirit, like standing under a waterfall.
When I had arrived, I was pretty down and cynical, but afterwards, I was as light as a feather and cheerful. By the time I left the conference, I felt like I was walking on air and didn’t have a care in the world. I would not have cared if the world were ending. That time soaking in praise and worship brought immediate change in our life. We had exchanged the spirit of heaviness for the garment of praise.
Praise and depression are polar opposites and repel each other. If you are down, depressed, heavy, you will not feel like praising the Lord. If you are praising the Lord, then you will not feel like being depressed. If you are feeling ‘heavy’ today, find some good praise and worship music and soak in it for an hour. Listen to it while working. Begin to praise the Lord along with it, and that spirit of heaviness will flee out of hearing range. The garment of praise drives away the spirit of heaviness.
Prayer: Heavenly Father I praise You today, please deliver me from the spirit of heaviness. Fill my life with Your presence, bring the right people, the right music, and the right opportunities into my life, in the name of Jesus Christ I pray.
Bible Fun Fact: The 10 commandments had writing on both sides (Ex 32:15).
What Jesus Did! ‘Blessed Eyes!’ — Luke 10:23-24
Father, how can I ever thank you properly for the incredible grace of knowing Jesus, and in knowing Jesus, understanding your incredible love and grace? Never let me lose my sense of wonder at knowing Jesus, in whose name I offer my devotion, thanks, and praise. Amen.
Related Scripture Readings
Daily Wisdom: Psalm 119:1
Passion for Praise: ‘You Unfailing Love’
A Year with Jesus: ‘First Mission Is Completed!’
Note from Jesus
In today’s verses, Luke writes about the last part of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. As you saw yesterday, they developed a strategic rhythm in sharing the gospel. They would share My message first in the synagogues with Jews and God-fearers. Then, when resistance and opposition mounted, they would go to non-Jews in that same city. The methodology was quite effective. However, it brought a lot of resistance among some in the Jewish community:
Finally the Jews and outsiders who opposed them joined forces and enlisted the political leaders in their plan to beat and stone Paul and Barnabas. They learned of the plan and escaped to Lystra and Derbe in Lycaonia, and the surrounding countryside, where they continued proclaiming the good news.
This resistance, even when in the form of persecution, did not stop Barnabas and Paul. The power of the Holy Spirit and the joy of My grace buoyed them. Furthermore, the resistance did not keep additional people from believing their message.
Along the way, Barnabas and Paul met some challenges that were quite different from the ones of their Jewish upbringing. In places where superstition and false religion were the customs, Barnabas and Paul found their miracles didn’t always point people to Me. Instead, the miracles sometimes created confusion and false worship of the miracle workers. Rather than accept the worship and adulation of the crowds, Paul and Barnabas taught the truth and pointed the people to Me:
Friends! No! No! Don’t do this! [That is, don’t worship us, Paul and Barnabas.] We’re just humans like all of you! We’re not here to be worshiped! We’re here to bring you good news — good news that you should turn from these worthless forms of worship and instead serve the living God, the God Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that they contain.
Soon, My faithful emissaries, Barnabas and Paul, were facing attacks from hostile non-believing Jews, non-Jews who did not understand their message, and political leaders who were incited by leading Jewish officials to oppose My messengers. To prepare the new believers for what was ahead, Barnabas and Paul did two very important things. First, they warned these new believers that they must face “many persecutions as we enter the kingdom of God.” Second, they appointed leaders — godly older men called elders — to help guide these new communities of believers. When they returned to Antioch (in Syria) where they began their mission efforts, they reported on the great work We — Father, Son, and Spirit — had led them to do and empowered them to accomplish.
Verses to Live
This first mission of Barnabas and Paul wasn’t easy. But when they returned, they could truthfully say, “Our first mission is completed!”
In Lystra they [Paul and Barnabas] met a man who had been crippled since birth; his feet were completely useless. He listened to Paul speak, and Paul could see in this man’s face that he had faith to be healed.
Stand up on your own two feet, man!
The man jumped up and walked! When the crowds saw this, they started shouting in Lycaonian.
The gods have come down to us! They’ve come in human form!
They decided that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes (since he was the main speaker). Before they knew it, the priest of Zeus, whose temple was prominent in that city, came to the city gates with oxen and garlands of flowers so the Lycaonians could offer sacrifices in worship to Paul and Barnabas! When they heard of this, Paul and Barnabas were beside themselves with frustration — they ripped their tunics as an expression of disapproval and rushed out into the crowd.
Paul and Barnabas (shouting):
Friends! No! No! Don’t do this! We’re just humans like all of you! We’re not here to be worshiped! We’re here to bring you good news — good news that you should turn from these worthless forms of worship and instead serve the living God, the God Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that they contain. Through all previous generations, God has allowed all the nations to follow their own customs and religions, but even then God revealed Himself by doing good to you — giving you rain for your crops and fruitful harvests season after season, filling your stomachs with food and your hearts with joy.
In spite of these words, they were barely able to keep the crowds from making sacrifices to them.
Then unbelieving Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and incited the crowds against the Lord’s emissaries. The crowds turned on Paul, stoned him, dragged him out of the city, and left him there, thinking he was dead. As the disciples gathered around him, he suddenly rose to his feet and returned to the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. After they proclaimed the good news there and taught many disciples, they returned to some of the cities they had recently visited — Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia. In each place, they brought strength to the disciples, encouraging them to remain true to the faith.
Paul and Barnabas:
We must go through many persecutions as we enter the kingdom of God.
In each church, they would appoint leaders, pray and fast together, and entrust them to the Lord in Whom they had come to believe.
They then passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. They preached their message in Perga and then went to the port of Attalia. There they set sail for Antioch, where they were first entrusted to the grace of God for the mission they had now completed. They called the church together when they arrived and reported all God had done with and through them, how God had welcomed outsiders through the doorway of faith. They stayed with the disciples in Antioch for quite a while.
Response in Prayer
O Father, I want to have the same joyful courage in my time as Paul and Barnabas demonstrated. I know that living the values of Your kingdom and sharing Your grace with others will not always be appreciated. However, I also know that the world needs these kingdom values. I know that so many need to discover Your saving grace. Help me please, dear LORD, to know how to share your message effectively and not worry about the hardships that may come from bringing Your grace to the unbelieving world. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
Christ in the Comic Strips
Which Cartoon Above Best Represents the Gospel Most Christians Hear Today?
Today, far too many Christians and churches across America find themselves captive to a paralyzing “crisis of Christology”—a disastrous shortfall in how we see, seek, savor, and speak of God’s Son for ALL he is right now as Lord and King of all.
Primarily, this is because of how many of us have come to Christ to start with. Unfortunately, the saying that “the Jesus we win them with is the Jesus we keep them with” is too often true. That Jesus is “too small.”
In this guest blog post, Brian Steele, pastor at Christ the King Community Church in Bellingham, Washington, analyzes the situation in a very creative way—using “comics”!
He gives us fresh insights to help us walk with Jesus and share him in view of how great our Lord Jesus Christ really is! These challenging excerpts come from his new book, The Field Guide to Finding God’s Really Real Kingdom, coming out in September.
– David Bryant
The following is excerpted and adapted from Brian Steele’s book, The Field Guide to Finding God’s Really Real Kingdom, which will be released in the fall of 2019. Feedback and conversation are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christ in the Comic Strips
Christ the Bridge Girder?
A popular comic is often used in evangelism and mission trips to illustrate the gospel message.1 The image does voice some truth of the gospel. But it more loudly proclaims what David Bryant has termed the “Crisis of Christology.”
A solitary person is shown pondering the impossible gap between God and man. The poor soul’s sin carries a death penalty, and the flames of hell perilously await below. In using this comic, the evangelist typically points out to a lost sinner the good news—that Christ’s payment on the cross bridges this chasm so that he can reach eternal life with God.
This carries some truth—but it’s only a partial truth that creates a peril. Does this partial truth even begin to describe the treasure hidden in the field of Matthew 13:44? Is that the fullness of what Jesus meant that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15)? Is this how Jesus instructed his disciples to preach the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 24:14)? If that’s the fullness of the gospel, then Christ is little more than a bridge girder—some metal truss whose sole function is to span a fiery chasm and get walked over. That is a crisis of Christology.
In a church desperately needing a Christ awakening, the gospel often gets reduced to some version of “Jesus died for you. Believe in him, escape hell, and go to heaven.” However, that’s not the gospel of the kingdom. Why? Because it doesn’t address God’s kingdom nor the exalted King. I wish this were a straw man argument. An evangelist who avoids the news of the kingdom undercuts the news that there is now a new King ruling.
The Gospel of the Kingdom
The gospel of the kingdom is good news about the kingdom. And if we don’t shareabout the kingdom then are we really about the kingdom?
To be fair, the gospel of the kingdom is difficult to preach to people who don’t seem to have mental categories for kingdoms. To be honest, for full disclosure, I’ve even led a missionary effort in Honduras where we used this very same comic strip to share the gospel in a mountainside village.2 We painted this mural on a water tank.
Please hear me carefully on this. The cross of Jesus does bridge the gap between God and us. We are delivered from the eternal consequences of our sin by the sacrifice of Jesus. But we contribute to the crisis of Christology if we avoid preaching, teaching, and sharing about the kingdom.
A typical pushback in American churches is that people “don’t understand kingdoms” since we live in a country that rebelled against a king. But shouldn’t that same logic prevent teaching about justification, sanctification, substitutionary atonement, or eternal punishment for sins? Aren’t these ideas even stranger than the concept of a kingdom? For that matter, shouldn’t the math teacher avoid instruction on differential equations since the students don’t understand calculus? Perhaps the foreign language teacher should avoid Spanish since the students speak English.
The position of “we don’t understand kingdoms” falls apart when you look at the media consumed by western cultures. Our movies, TV shows, and video games are absolutely dominated by kingdom narratives. Every year people spend billions of dollars consuming kingdom stories. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey—all of them are kingdom stories. The opening weekend of Marvel’s “End Game” movie netted $1.2 billion alone. That is a kingdom story if it is nothing else. At the heart of all these movies are the burning questions “Who will reign? Who deserves the throne? Who is king?” Practically all of the entertainment we consume has kingdom themes. We are desperately starving and thirsty for kingdom narratives. Why? Because we were made and designed to live in an eternal kingdom. The kingdom narrative is etched in our very DNA.
Our problem is not that people don’t understand kingdoms. Our problem is that people only understand kingdoms. But we have stripped the kingdom from the gospel. Tragically, in modern culture, virtually the only place you can go and not hear a really good kingdom story is in the church—the body of Christ the King.
The Zoom Problem
Somehow, in our gospel presentations, we zoom in very tightly on atonement theology and often completely miss the larger picture of the kingdom that atonement secures for us.
In our Christological-Crises worldview, we almost entirely focus tightly on the wounds of the sacrificial Lamb hanging on the cross. But then in our limited frame, we miss the sign hanging above that Lamb on the cross that reads, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19).
Ironically, when Pilate wrote the inscription above Jesus on the cross, he used three languages—Aramaic, Latin, and Greek—so that the widest possible audience would understand that Jesus’ claim to be king landed him on the cross. Yet our modern gospel too often doesn’t bring that same message for its audience. Yes, Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead. But don’t stop there. Please! He is the crucified and risen King who began to bring his kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. The marks inscribed on the sign above the crucified King are at least as important as the marks of the nails in the hands and feet of the risen King. This is getting towards the gospel of the kingdom.
When the Apostle Paul met with the elders of the church in Ephesus, he had a very instructional conversation with them. He insisted that he didn’t hold anything back but declared to them the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). But what were the dominant theme and primary content of that whole counsel? Paul says that he had testified to the “gospel of grace” and “gone about proclaiming the kingdom” (Acts 20:24-25).
Paul is very concerned that the leaders of the Ephesian church know he gave them a complete account of the gospel. Nothing was withheld by Paul for their benefit. As Paul summarized his teaching, what was the content? Repentance, faith, the lordship of Jesus, and the gospel of grace. Isn’t all of this captured in our comic strip of the poor soul looking to cross the chasm of eternal fire? Yes, except there’s something else. Paul went about “proclaiming the kingdom” (vs.20:25). Anything else? Yes, he was calling people to faith not just in Jesus but in the Lord Jesus Christ (vs. 20:21). His call wasn’t just to prompt people to believe that Jesus exists. Paul was prompting people to give their loyalty, obedience, and trust to Jesus as the Christ—the King. His gospel was immersed through and through with God’s work to establish his kingdom.
It couldn’t be otherwise. The whole counsel of God without the kingdom of God is not the whole counsel of God just as the gospel of the kingdom without the kingdom is not the gospel of the kingdom. The gospel must necessarily include the kingdom. Sharing the gospel without the kingdom is like selling a new car without the engine. Or, more accurately, it is like selling a car without the car. Paul is defending himself against the potential allegation that he’s sold the church in Ephesus a lemon.
Was it only in Ephesus that, for some reason, Paul spoke about the kingdom? Was there some cultural reason for him to put the gospel in a kingdom frame there that’s not needed elsewhere? Not at all. The kingdom was a universal and constant theme as Paul shared the gospel of the kingdom in all of his writings, in all of the places he visited, to all audiences—both Jewish and Greek.
There’s no coincidence that the book of Acts is bookended with kingdom proclamations. Acts begins with Jesus in Jerusalem “appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1-3). And the book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome saying that from morning until evening he “testified to the kingdom of God” (28:23-24) and that he lived there for two whole years “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ” (30-31).
The author Luke bookended his account with Jesus and Paul teaching about the kingdom to let us know that is the whole context by which we can understand everything in between.
We Need a New Comic Strip
Perhaps we can hijack that popular comic strip and bend it towards a gospel that includes the kingdom. Would it look something like my own adapted version below?
That’s more like it! Jesus Christ—the King—left his throne in heaven to bring the good reign of his kingdom to earth, making the way, securing his victory, by suffering on the cross. Why? He did it to bring the blessing of God to every family and every nation on earth. It is a campaign of conquest. Not to enslave but to set free. Not to subjugate but to empower. Not to rob but to give. Jesus came bringing crowns with him to restore our rightful place of ruling with him for eternity—beginning right here and now. This is the good news of the kingdom. The news is that Christ is now King. The wicked tyrant of darkness has been defeated and deposed. Our participation in that evil mutiny can be forgiven, and we can be adopted into the royal family of light—becoming heirs of the kingdom. In that, we begin to understand the treasure hidden in the field (Matthew 13:44).
The Kingdom Story of Scripture
The very narrative arc of scripture has become collateral damage through the crisis of Christology. If you can’t see Jesus for who he is as the supreme King of Kings, then you can’t see the grand sweep of his kingdom coming from the opening to the close of scripture.
The Bible is a kingdom story. Period.
If we want a one-verse summary of the Bible’s narrative arc, then Revelation 11:15 will do nicely: “The kingdoms of this earth have become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
A three-verse suite of passages also neatly ties the story together. First, YHWH told Moses, “I will make you a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6). Then Peter told the early church, “you are a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). Finally, the Apostle John tells us in his vision, “you have made them a kingdom of priests” (Revelation 5:10).
Still not convinced the Bible is a kingdom story? Look at the six most common nouns in the whole of scripture:
1. Lord (used 7,484 times)
2. God (3,969)
3. One (2,485)
4. Son (2,331)
5. King (2,314)
6. People (2,213)
Ernest Hemingway is purported to have made a bet with friends that he could write a novel in six words. He wrote: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” I believe these six most common nouns in the Bible listed above capture the narrative arc of the kingdom story: “Lord God One. Son King. People.”Or it could also be written, “Lord God. One Son. King-People.”
Take the biblical text from the passion narratives of the four gospels and make a word cloud. Now, look at the central, most important word in the account of Christ’s betrayal, trial, and crucifixion.
Why is “king” the central word of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John’s passion narratives? Because the Bible is a kingdom story. And Jesus is King.
The four major covenants also have explicit kingdom purposes.
Each of these themes is also captured in the updated gospel comic above. Go back and look at the second comic. Per the Abrahamic Covenant, can you see “all of the families of the earth being blessed” through the “Son of Abraham”? In fulfillment of the Mosaic Covenant, can you see how the loving rule of the Anointed One is brought to bear in the kingdom citizens as they love the Lord their God and neighbors? Per the Davidic Covenant, can you see the “Son of David” extending the rule of his eternal throne to the whole world? And per the New Covenant, can you see the bread and cup reminding kingdom citizens not to forget the victory of the cross nor the coming ultimate consummation of the King’s rule?
Resurfacing the Romans Road
Often the “kingdomless” gospel shared with people draws a few passages from Paul’s letter to the Romans—and we call this the “Roman Road of Salvation.” However, the typical Roman Road leaves out Paul’s emphasis on God’s kingdom and instead has a narrow focus on faith, sin, and forgiveness. The hearer is left with only a walk across the gulf of flames by the cross of Jesus. But if we must go down a Roman Road, can we at least always include the kingdom context that immersed Paul’s theology?
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)
If we must draw comics of this cosmic story, can we at least reflect the resounding heartbeat of that story? Doesn’t this updated gospel comic better reflect the core message these Bible passages present as the “gospel of the kingdom”?
For a Christ awakening, let’s take instruction from Jesus’ parable of the four soils (Matthew 13:1-23). Read that parable closely. The seed is the “word of the kingdom” (vs. 19). The good soil represents those who “hear and understand” the word of the kingdom (vs. 23). If that’s true, let’s speak and teach the word of the kingdom so that people can hear and understand the word of the kingdom, yielding a crop of thirty, sixty, or even a hundredfold.
It might seem silly to spend so much time looking at comic strips. But there is something extremely powerful in those simple drawings because they represent the stories in our heads. And stories are powerful. Stories shape our worldview. Personal stories literally control what we can see. The story in your head drives your life in the world.
God’s kingdom is really real. Jesus Christ is the really real king. The story in our head must align with the reality of the world. If our personal narrative does not include God’s kingdom, then we aren’t living as if Jesus is King. And if we are not living as if Jesus is King, we have a true crisis of Christology. In choosing your comic, you are choosing your Christ.
Pastor Brian Steele began looking at the parable of the hidden treasure in Matthew 13:44 in 2012. Since then, seven years of research, meditation, prayer, and study of that single parable has led him to be fully convinced he has still only scratched the surface of the riches of Christ and his kingdom. This cumulative work will be released in a series of books to help others discover the greatness of God’s kingdom. The first book in the series, The Field Guide to Finding God’s Really Real Kingdom, will be released in the fall of 2019.
In addition to being a pastor at Christ the King Community Church in Bellingham, WA, Brian is also a professional geologist and is in (partial) recovery from a birdwatching addiction. He loves exploring alpine wildernesses of the North Cascades while living in Whatcom County, WA, with his wife, Katie.
Comics and Humor…