KINGDOM COME – THE ANCIENT EMPIRES

“Life is short” – Nike

Today in Iraq is the excavation of the ancient city of Babylon.  Recently at the excavation site, scientists discovered an ancient carving etched in stone that bares these words: “I am King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, king from sea to far sea.” What happened to this king and his powerful empire?

In 612 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, attacked Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire and most powerful city in the world.  The Babylonian army defeated the Assyrians and quickly became the most powerful empire in the history of the world.  The Babylonian Empire stretched from one side of the known world to the other.  The Babylonians would rule the world forever… it would seem.

Then in 539 B.C. Cyrus, king of Persia, came up from the area of modern day Iran and attacked the Babylonian empire.  The Persians eventually defeated Babylon and the Persian Empire quickly became the most powerful empire in the history of the world, stretching from one side of the known world to the other.  For almost 300 years the Persian Empire sustained itself.  The Persians would rule the world forever… it would seem.

Then in 350 B.C., in a disorganized corner of the world known as Greece, the city-states of Athens, Sparta, and Macedonia joined forces under Alexander the Great and attacked the Persian Empire and defeated the Persians, becoming the most powerful empire in the history of the world.  The Greek Empire quickly stretched from one side of the known world to the other.  The Greeks would rule the world forever… it would seem.

Then in 264 B.C. the Roman army crossed over the line of Italy and attacked and defeated the Greek empire.  The Roman Empire quickly stretched from one side of the known world to the other and became the most powerful empire in the history of the world.  The Romans would rule the world forever… it would seem.

Then in 1783 A.D. America defeated the British armies and eventually became the most powerful empire in the history of the world.  The Americans would dominate the world forever… it would seem…

We are part of the on-going pattern of history.  Babylon perished.  Persia, Greece, and Rome all followed suit.  One day so will we.  I often forget that we are not permanent; we will not last forever.  I am a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

As Nike says, “Life is short”… but it’s the next one that lasts forever.  May we remember that we are passing through this perishable world and will one day enter a kingdom that will, in fact, last forever.

Nebuchadnezzar was king only for a season.  His kingdom did not last.  Today, etched in stone at an Iraqi excavation site is a reminder that kingdoms rise, kingdoms fall, but there is a kingdom to come that will last forever.

“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” – Daniel of Babylon (circa 620 B.C.)

THE DA VINCI CODE

Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” has become an international phenomenon, having sold over 30 million copies in 44 languages.  In the novel, Brown’s characters discover that the Holy Grail is actually Mary Magdalene, the secret wife of Jesus and the mother of Jesus’ child.  They discover that Jesus was only a “great moral teacher”; not God.

What amazes me is that a fictional novel, not intended to be historically accurate, can be considered such a credible source.  The Barna Institute reports that 2 million people have changed their beliefs about Jesus from the novel/film.  It seems people are quick to accept anything supporting their own predispositions toward God and call it “Truth”.  We want a less powerful, more manageable Jesus that can fit neatly in a box – A Jesus who stays out of my way, but helps me when I pray.

Paul of Tarsus says, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”  (II Timothy 4:3-4)

What we know from ancient manuscripts, most of them dating back to the late 1st Century A.D. by even liberal scholars, is what Jesus claimed of himself:

Jesus claimed to be God.

Anyone who makes such claims can no longer be called a “great moral teacher.”  He would be either a liar (knew he wasn’t God), a lunatic (did not know he wasn’t God), or was who he claimed to be.

C.S. Lewis: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic… or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”

To believe that Jesus is anything other than a “great moral teacher” is scary because it forces me to choose: Either I pass him off for a crazy liar or submit to him as God. It’s much more comfortable to say he was a good man, a really nice guy, a “Mr. Rogers with a beard”.  Unfortunately Jesus does not leave that option open to us.

God exists apart from our own belief systems and predispositions.  Jesus is not confined to the blonde haired, blue eyed, Aryan Jesus from the Sunday School flannel graphs.  He stands alone, welcoming Dan Brown and the rest of the world to examine the evidence. (Matthew 7:7)  I pray that as we discover the “real” Jesus, we will discover more fully who we truly are as well.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – Jesus of Nazareth

(John 8:32)

GOLD DIGGER

I saw him on my last trip to the beach.  In an old pair of worn out loafers, mid-calf socks, a v-neck t-shirt, clip on shades, and a bucket hat, this modern-day gold digger shuffles through the sand searching for his buried treasure.  Armed with his metal detector, hoping to hear the high-pitched sound of the nearing metal treasure over his fading eardrums, he takes one step, another step, another step… and he listens.

I never see him standing still; moving is part of the game.  He has to take steps to know if he’s moving in the right direction toward his treasure.  I wonder how many steps he has made in the wrong direction.  How many times has he had to turn around and try a new path?  How much easier would it be if he had a map where X marks the spot?

I probably spend more time waiting for a map than actually taking steps.  I want to be sure of each step before I take it.  I hate wasting time.  Before I start a new project at work, before a new relationship, I want to know it will work out well.  But I am never given the map, only traces of clarity as I take each step.

I have rarely made decisions with 100% assurance.  I can pray for direction, but I have gained most clarity not as I wait, but as I walk- as I take steps forward, listening.  My tendency is to play it safe, but ‘safe’ is not how God called us to live.  He called us to live an adventure, paved with risk, marked by steps of faith.

“God has rigged the world so that it only works when we embrace risk as the theme of our lives, when we live by faith.  All attempts to find a safer life, to live by the expectations of others, just kill the soul in the end.” – John Eldredge

I’ve learned there’s really no such thing as a ‘safe life’.  There are no guarantees.  What seems to be a safe life is only a slow death.

One day when my hearing is faded and I’m wearing old loafers and bucket hats, I want to know I have reached the bounds of all I am meant to experience in this life.  I want to look back on this path and see how divinely lit it was.  It is a call to dream only God-sized dreams, to carry with us the faith that our risks will one day meet reward.  God is honored in our steps of faith.  He waits to show up in our steps.  So we pray for the day when our steps of faith will intersect with his faithfulness… and there the treasure will be.

“By faith the people of Israel passed through the Red Sea as on dry land.” – Author of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:29)

BEETHOVEN

Ludwig van Beethoven’s final and most famous symphony was his “Ninth Symphony”.  Through the ages, his masterpiece has been widely considered the most exciting and impacting piece in all of classical music.  Yet, Beethoven himself never heard it.  At the time he composed his Ninth Symphony, he was completely deaf.

On the opening night of his symphony’s performance, Beethoven sat on stage facing the orchestra, for though he could not hear, he could feel the musical vibrations through the floor.  The performance stunned the audience as the masses erupted in a standing ovation at the symphony’s conclusion.  Noticing that Beethoven could not see the crowd’s response from his seat, his colleagues picked him up and turned him to face the roars of the audience.  Though he heard nothing, he saw the resounding impact of what he had created.

All Beethoven knew in his later years was silence.  He also understood that a symphony’s power comes not just from the notes of the music, but from the space between the notes.  The silent pauses.  Written into the music preceding the crescendo is a brief moment of silence – as if to prepare the audience for the crescendo to come.  In the silence you hear, “Here comes the moment you’ve been waiting for!”

Throughout the Bible, God is silent.  He was silent when Joseph was thrown into an Egyptian prison, when David was hunted by Saul, and when Christ was hanging on the Cross.  In those moments, God did not bring justice.  He did not step in to ‘save the day’.  He was silent.  But the symphony was not over.  Suddenly God shows up unexpectedly.  Joseph is put in charge of the land of Egypt, David becomes king of Israel, and Christ is raised from the dead.  We discover that while God was silent, he was actually preparing to make his power known in an unmistaken way.

“When God is silent, he is not still.” – Jeff Henderson

Rarely am I completely confident I’m where God wants me, doing what He’s called me to do.  He seems to inform me on a “need-to-know” basis only.  Yet I find that the act of seeking him somehow positions me for the day when clarity finally comes.  I must remember that God’s silence does not mean the song is over; rather, his silence is preparation for what lies ahead.

May we recognize that the silence between the crescendos in life is what makes the music so spectacular.  May we use those silent moments to rest and prepare for the grand crescendos to come.  And in the silence may we hear, “Here comes the moment you’ve been waiting for!”

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” – Peter (I Peter 5:6)

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” – (Psalm 46:10)

KARL MARX – THE JEWISH BOY

There was a Jewish boy who grew up in Germany many years ago.  This boy deeply admired his father.  His father led the family to their Jewish Synagogue faithfully and the boy grew up with strong Jewish values and beliefs.

In his teen years his family was forced to move to another town in Germany where there was no Synagogue; only a Lutheran church- the life of the community.  The Lutheran church was the gathering place for all of the town’s important businessmen.  Wanting to be well-connected in business, his father made the family abandon their Jewish traditions and join the Lutheran church.  The boy was deeply wounded and confused by his Father.

The boy’s broken heart distorted his view of reality and drove him away from God and religion and later led him to the British Museum in England where he compiled his new beliefs into a book.  In that book he laid the foundation for a movement that would forever change the world.  He described religion as the “opiate for the masses” and developed a world system of life without God.  His ideas became the norm for governments of almost half the world’s people.  His name was Karl Marx, founder of the Communist Movement.

The history of the world was forever darkened because of one Jewish boy’s broken heart.

Brokenness can distort reality.  I doubt I am fully aware of how much my past experiences control my worldview today.  I know there must be lies about myself I am unaware I am believing.  What is it inside me that wants to hide my true self around certain people?  Why do I feel I have to impress, perform, exaggerate stories, make people think I’m important?  Have I believed the lie that I need their acceptance for validation?

I don’t want to live like that.  I don’t want to be caged by a distorted reality built by bricks of wounds and lies I collect to where “these walls are all I know.”  Christ said he came to heal and set us free (Luke 4:18).  So I pray for healing and freedom.  I pray God would restore those broken places in our lives and lead us to become who he created us to be.

There was another Jewish boy who grew up with strong Jewish values and beliefs who would also forever change the world.  His name was Isaiah (meaning “The Lord Saves”).  He penned the words that Christ would later quote at the outset of his public ministry:

“God has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free.”

THE CAN OPENER – THE STORY OF CHRISTMAS

The Biltmore, located in Asheville, North Carolina, was completed in 1895 with 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces and 3 kitchens on 4 acres of floor space.  The live-in cooks worked around the clock to feed the family, their guests and the more than 35 full-time workers, yet they kept only a few small shelves of canned foods on hand.  Almost all the food stored in the kitchens was non-canned food that spoiled quickly.  In the early 1900’s no one was buying canned foods.  Why? Because the can opener had not yet been invented.

When canned food was first invented in 1813, instructions on the cans read: “Cut around the top with a chisel and hammer.”  Though minor improvements were made to can opening devices over the years, the modern can opener with a serrated rotation wheel was not invented until 1925 – over 100 years after the birth of the metal can.  No one bought canned goods, not because the food was bad, but because there was no easy access to the food.  The food was fine; it was getting to the food that was the hard part.

 

Imagine the exponential increase in production and distribution of canned goods all over the world throughout the late 1800’s and early 1900’s had the can opener been invented.  How many more people would have bought canned foods had their simply been an easy way to open the cans?  How many more cans might have reached the poor, providing them with cheap food that didn’t spoil?  Yet year after year the world waited, without even knowing it, for someone to give them easy access to the food inside the cans.

 

Like the can opener, maybe the biggest barrier to spiritual growth is easy access to someone to show them how to do it!  The truth is the same; it’s getting to the truth that’s hard!  To me, it’s also the story the Christmas.  For thousands of years people followed the Law given through Moses – it was good for sin management, but it couldn’t give them easy access to God.  The law could point out and condemn sin, but it could not remove it.  The world waited for a savior.  We celebrate Christmas because Jesus’ birth, for the first time in history, created a way to have easy access to God.  Jesus told his disciples, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen my Father as well.”  The curious thing about Jesus was that he had to authority, he held no positions, he did nothing that usually accompanies success, yet he had the greatest influence of anyone who ever lived.  He mostly hung out with 12 guys for 3 years and today we celebrate him as the central figure of the human race – not because of what he did, but because of who he was.

I often forget that God is more concerned about who I am than what I do.  There’s something in me, and in probably most, that dreams of being the superhero, the all-star, the guy who saves the day, wins the prize, or galvanizes the masses.  But the people who have the most influence in your life often have the least Authority.  Easy access to those in your sphere of influence.  It’s great to have ambitions to one day reach the poorest kid in the smallest villages of Africa, but what am I doing today for the kid down the street?  How can I be his “can opener”?  I may be the only Bible someone ever reads.  The can opener is a reminder that family and friends truly are the greatest gifts in life, a reminder to cherish those quiet moments, and to be grateful that we have a savior that provided easy access to God.

“Despite efforts to keep Him out, God intrudes.  The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities:  a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb.  Jesus entered our world through a door marked ‘No Entrance’ and left through a door marked ‘No Exit’.” – Author Unknown