Anointed One

The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1, NASB)

We are citizens in the kingdom of God.

Do we know who our king is?

I’m asking that question seriously, because honestly, I think this is the number-one scandal in the church today. We’ve gotten so used to reading the Bible as “life’s little instruction book” that we forgot it’s a Story. A history. A history that centers around a person, a man who became king and who is sitting now on the throne of the kingdom of heaven.

A man with a family, a history, a mission, and a role in the universe that affects us all.

Several years ago I started teaching a Bible study through Matthew for our 1:11 team. I just wanna say this up front: the Bible is the most loaded book I have ever read. If you want to go in-depth, you can spend hours picking apart just one phrase.

Case in point, I spent over an hour on Matthew 1:1, and I only scratched the surface.

Matthew’s not wasting words here. Every word is dripping with significance: historical background, prophetic allusion, and declaration of who this man is and what he came to do.

Here, he says, is the historical record of the man Jesus. Born a Jew, into two particular lines of promise: the line of blessing and the line of kingship. The direct inheritor of two enormously significant covenants, promised first to Israel and through that nation to the entire world.

Right, I’m jumping ahead. Sorry.

“This is the record of the genealogy.”

Which means, right there, that Jesus is not like other gods. He’s not a myth, a fairy tale. He’s a man who could look up his family tree on genealogy.com. He was born in the real world, in a real place, at a real time, to a real family.

But then he’s called Jesus.

The Greek form of Yeshua (Joshua), which means “Yahweh saves.”

And Matthew calls him the Christ (Greek for the Hebrew “Messiah”)–the Anointed One.

In the Old Testament world that laid the foundations for Jesus’s coming, anointing signified authority in the service of God. Priests and kings were anointed to fulfill their roles with God’s power and blessing.

Jesus had a very specific mission that came with his anointing.

It remains his mission today — one we share as his body in the world.

(But that’s jumping waaaay ahead.)

He declared it himself when he began his ministry, reading the ancient words of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me,
because the LORD has anointed Me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to heal
the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and freedom to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year
of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of our God’s vengeance;
to comfort all who mourn
in Zion;
to give them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes
instead of despair.
And they will be called righteous trees,
planted by the LORD to glorify Him.”
(Isaiah 61:1-3, HCSB)

He is Yeshua HaMashiach, Yeshua the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Yahweh who saves and who was promised. The man who has come into the world full of the Spirit of the Lord GOD to bring good news, to heal the brokenhearted, free the captives, turn mourning into dancing, and clothe the despairing human race in glory.

To make of you and me “trees of righteousness, planted by the LORD.” Full of God’s own life and manifesting that life in the world through the fruit we bear.

That is the Jesus Matthew announced.

But I do have to wonder if it’s the Jesus many of us know.

Because quite honestly, often I think we don’t really know what Jesus’s mission is at all–what he’s anointed, empowered, and desirous to do. Do we know that our faith is in one who has come to save? And before we scandalously overspiritualize that word until it doesn’t mean anything that really means anything, let’s break it down:

Our faith is in one who has come:

to bring good news
to heal
to comfort
to proclaim liberty
to announce God’s favor and also his vengeance on his enemies (and ours)
to exchange beauty for ashes, joy for sorrow, glory for despair.

He has come to make us fully alive where before we were withering and all but dead. He has come to plant us by living waters and manifest his righteousness and his life through us.

(“Righteousness,” by the way, should not just be read as “morality”; in biblical terms, you might think of it as a power of life. It’s a creative energy, a force–the “right-making” of the world.)

Jesus was (and is) on a mission to meet all of the crying need of mankind, not to tell us we don’t really need that after all; to make our deepest heart’s desires come true (not to warn us against wanting things); and to glorify us so we will glorify him.

He isn’t “Yahweh sees what you’re going through but prefers to keep his distance; don’t worry, you can come to heaven when it’s all over”; he is YAHWEH SAVES.

If you’re going to serve a king, it’s good to know what he’s all about. What his mission is.

Not least because we need saving.

And not least because, when we get caught up with Jesus and become part of his kingdom, this becomes our mission too.

Adventures in the Kingdom: Well, We’re Off

Well, my friends, it’s here: after several months of prepping this website and writing some preliminary posts, Adventures in the Kingdom officially launches today. I am blogging again for the first time since Inklings way back prior to 2010.

So what does “Adventures in the Kingdom” mean?

When John the Baptist started heralding the arrival of Jesus over two thousand years ago, it was with the declaration “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Jesus kicked off his ministry at the age of thirty with the same words.

The whole Bible, in fact, leads up to and then underscores this reality-altering fact: The kingdom of God is here.

And, at the same time, we still pray every day: Your kingdom come.

Growing up in the church, I never really heard much about the kingdom until I was a teenager and became part of a ministry out in the desert where the kingdom was talked about a lot. But I still didn’t know what it was. And they never really defined it.

Ever since, I’ve been on a journey of trying to comprehend—and live well within—the kingdom of God.

That involves a lot of history, a lot of principles, a lot of spiritual realities.

Most of all, it’s my absolute conviction that we cannot understand this kingdom without understanding its king.

So beginning tomorrow—and continuing for the foreseeable future—this blog will be about the king and the kingdom, and our place in a reality that came out of the grave with Jesus over two millennia ago and has been changing our world—from the inside out—ever since.

I plan to come at the topic from a lot of different angles, and the sky’s the limit—I have a few months’ worth of posts ready to go, but pretty much anything is fair game. I know I’ll continue talking about fiction, especially my own stories, and art in general. Marvel movies are in the mix. I’ll be posting various reflections on Scripture and other stuff I’m reading.

The main feature for the next few months, though, will be a trip through the gospel of Matthew. That ancient book—which serves as something of a bridge between Old and New Testaments—is where I really first started grappling with the Bible’s “kingdom” ideas. So I’m excited to dive in with you.

Ready?

Great. Let’s go!

POST 1 COMING TOMORROW—TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1.

Yes, I Am Finite

As a young(er) person I used to think, “Man, if I only had the money I would do this or that, go here or there, do things I can’t do right now.”

I still think that, sometimes, but the older I get the more I realize money is not the only, or even the primary, asset I need.

God has blessed me so sometimes I HAVE the money. What’s scarcer, and more precious, is other things: Time, for example. Also relationships, community, emotional capital, mental capacity.

I may be able to afford to go away for two months, living in an interesting or beautiful place, but I can’t afford the gash in my community that would create. I may be able to pay for a night out, but I can’t take the time. I can afford textbooks to study something I’m interested in but I don’t have the mental space: my work is already using that to the max.

As someone who loves to travel, experience, and learn, I am often frustrated by my own finitude.

On the other hand, I think coming to terms with finiteness is part of what it means to be humble.

tiny house photo
Photo by nicolas.boullosa

In ancient Israel, God required the people to take a Sabbath one day every week during which they would not work. Modern studies show that Sabbath-keeping is actually the maximal way to live in terms of health and even productivity. But the whole thing is an interesting exercise in being consciously finite: you step back and say:

“Today I will not work, I will not determine my own provision, I will not affect my future. Today I will rest and recognize that I am not God.”

I’m a believer in abundance and that God gives resources beyond what we can need. But I’m also a believer in recognizing that I am not God; I can’t, and I don’t have to, take on everything. God is unlimited, I am not.

Many years ago I was wondering why so many people in ministry seemed so burned out, and I heard the Lord say to my spirit, “Many of my people are carrying burdens I did not put on them.”

So I don’t take on every prayer request. I don’t follow every news story. I don’t pursue every study, every opportunity, every possible open door. I CAN’T.

Even Jesus, in his earthly life, didn’t. He limited his ministry to natural Israel. (A little over 8000 square miles, if Google is to be believed.) And it lasted for only three years.

One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is “Lord, enlarge my heart.” The Scriptures actually talk a lot about this concept of God enlarging, widening, increasing — giving us greater territory, widening our borders, actually making our hearts bigger. Enlarging our capacity. But I believe that goes in hand-in-hand with a kind of Sabbathing approach to life: Recognizing always that we are finite, receiving from the Infinite. Humbling ourselves before the One who has “the whole world in his hands.”

As ever, life in the kingdom is a paradox. Become a child, receive the heavens. Humble yourself; be exalted. Accept your limits; enter the limitless.

You cannot be, and you do not have to be, more than you are. It’s okay to live with limited assets and to need wisdom to manage them well. There is freedom in knowing we are not God, even as we worship and live within the One who is.

infinity photo

Fantastic Four: I Want a Sequel

We-e-e-e-e-ll . . .

f4-characters-poster-usIf you’ve read anything about the new FANTASTIC FOUR movie at Rotten Tomatoes, or local reviews, or the blogosphere, or, well, anywhere, you probably know it’s a bomb, and I don’t mean “da bomb” in the sense that things used to want to be.

Actually, reviewers and fanboys have trashed this movie worse than maybe any superhero movie ever. Despite that, Fox is apparently still planning to make a sequel.

And I really, really hope they do.

Yes, as a dedicated Marvel moviegoer who is working on a book about Marvel movies and real-life spirituality, I trotted off to see this film a few days after it came out. (I hadn’t read any reviews so I didn’t know what a giant flop it was supposed to be.) And the thing is, although it had some obvious problems, it was not the worst superhero movie ever made — and definitely not the worst Fantastic Four movie ever made — and I actually liked it. The film’s biggest problems were in pacing and story structure, such that it essentially set up a really good story and then never finished it.

But I cared about the characters, and I want to know what happens to them.

To me, if a sequel doesn’t happen, this movie will have been a waste. And if a sequel DOES happen, and it’s good, then I will quite happily continue to enjoy this movie as the prequel that it is.

Of course, how all that plays out remains to be seen.

(Incidentally, my dedicated Marvel movie-going does have limits. I won’t be seeing Fox’s R-rated DEADPOOL, and jury’s out on whether I’ll take in the MCU’s DR. STRANGE. Depends on how they handle the occult elements.)

Given all of that setup-that-doesn’t-really-go-anywhere, though, there isn’t a ton for me to work with as far as those real-life, Bible-based applications I like to make. (I mean, the movie definitely agrees with Proverbs that people in power shouldn’t get drunk. But that feels a little weak for a post here on Adventures.)

I could say that it reminded me not to judge an end by its beginning: a lot can happen in the course of a story told over time.

For me today, that’s good enough. This has been your friendly neighbourhood Marvel movie report. I’ll see you in May for thoughts on CIVIL WAR!

Accidental Books & Life on Purpose

When I was young I could write books almost by accident.
play photoSee, I would have an idea for a scene or a place or a character, and I would play with it in my mind for a while (and usually also with toys or sticks or something — I was a kid, and I “played” to a late age), and then eventually I would start putting it on paper. The latter part happened more often as I got into my teens and started to be more serious about writing. But serious or not, manuscripts came together as a side effect of having fun.

That never happens anymore.

My current WIP (work-in-progress) is a stellar example of why. I am working on BELOVED, Book 3 in The Prophet Trilogy. My goal is a late fall release. I’ve been doing some preliminary work for a while and intended to start the actual writing three days ago.

What I actually DID on that day was catch up on work that was due after a busy week of directing camp and doing nothing else. The next day I went to church and then a wedding. The next day I drove 4 1/2 hours to my parents’ house, where I’m staying for a week doing prep stuff for another wedding (my sister’s). I’m working full-time while I’m here, plus hanging out with my siblings and sibs-in-law and nieces and parents.

Next week I drive eight hours to Ottawa to spend a week teaching Bible three hours a day, Monday-Friday, at another camp; and then drive back eight hours for another week of wedding prep and then the wedding itself. I also have to visit the doctor, get some legal papers notarized, and do some financial management.

All, I want to stress, while WORKING FULL-TIME.

In other words, when you grow up, life gets full in a way it was not when you were a kid. I don’t play on the computer anymore; I work on it. Relationships aren’t just things that are happening around me; they take intentionality and focus and driving many hours.

And I’m glad they do. They’re worth it.

All of this has me thinking about life and how important things happen. Often we learn what’s important accidentally. Through play. Through exploring. Through just growing up within a community of people, in church, in family.

But as you get older and demands come, important things don’t happen accidentally anymore. If they’re going to happen at all, they will happen because we choose to prioritize them and give them our time, our money, and our attention.

That’s true about writing books. It’s true about relationships and spiritual life.

It’s true about anything that matters.

Paul said there comes a time to “put away childish things” and think like an adult, and I think this is part of it: actually identifying what matters to us and choosing to live in line with that. It’s part of the beauty of being human, this ability to make ourselves and make our lives to some extent within our God-given context.

For me, writing books and telling stories is important. So BELOVED will get done — although realistically, that late fall release may turn into early winter. Thankfully I publish my own work so I can be a little elastic with deadlines. But it will only get done as part of a bigger whole, as part of a life where work and artistic expression are important but not all-consuming, because they’re just one little part of a life of worship.

Which can, perhaps, be defined as making choices mindfully and gratefully with the awareness that our context comes from God and that all that we choose to do within it is of him and to him and through him, for his glory and in the light of his grace.