Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - “Understanding God’s Kingdom”

Over the years I have been asked to describe God’s kingdom to adults and children alike. Each have reasons for asking about His kingdom. Some ask due to deaths in their families and they want to know that their loved ones have gone on to a place paved with gold and mansions for all. Children, naturally being curious about things that they have never seen, ask about Heaven. Their understanding is a little different. They believe it is more like a chocolate factory and that there are cookies and cakes for all to eat and enjoy. Candy abounds for all children.

No matter if you are nine or ninety, we all want to know what God’s kingdom is like and what we should expect. In Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet,” the main character and namesake of the play talks about committing suicide. In his famous soliloquy, Hamlet considers what it would be like to die by one’s own hand and end the pain of life. Later on he discusses what comes after death. Hamlet calls that life after death the “undiscovered country”. Many have ventured there and very few have returned to tell of what it is like. He does not take his life, because he fears the unknown. He does not want to risk an afterlife with even more torment.

We have all heard of stories of individuals who have died and gone over to the other side, Heaven, hell or, as Hamlet put it, the “undiscovered country”. Some have told of a wonderful bright light that engulfs them and they feel a wonderful warmth. Their loved ones who had passed away are there to greet them. Others have told of horrifying stories of demons and a pit with the smell of sulfur and ash. In either case, the images seen by those individuals forever changed their mind regarding the afterlife. For those who saw the gates of hell, they mended their ways and became Christians. For those who were engulfed by the warmth of the light, they remained steadfast in their faith and witnessed to those around them. They no longer feared the life event called “death”. For them, death is an event that opens a door to a new life.

As I read those stories, I thought about what Jesus had to say about the Kingdom of God. In Mark 4, Jesus used parables to help individuals who opened their hearts to understand the nature of God. Starting with verse 30, Jesus describes the Kingdom as a mustard seed. Let us look at that passage. “30 Jesus said, ‘How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? 31 It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, 32 but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.’”

Instead of describing the streets paved with gold or, in the case of children, paved with chocolate, Jesus talks about the Kingdom as a mustard seed. How could this wonderful place be a mustard seed? When you read the whole chapter in its entirety, you begin to understand that even the disciples have problems understanding them. The stories were not complex, but they required one thing, faith.

As our faith grows just like that mustard seed, our understanding grows not only of the Kingdom but also of God. The Kingdom is more than just a place to live. It is also the nature of God. Jesus tells us that the tiniest of seeds grows into the largest of garden plants. It provides shade and shelter for birds to make their home. That one parable describes God’s nature. He is Lord over all and He provides for all those who find shelter and sanctuary within Him just like the mustard plant.

In Luke 17, Jesus is asked by a Pharisee when will the Kingdom of God come. Jesus replies, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. 21 You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” The Kingdom of God already exists among us. It is the nature of God and what He does daily for His children. He provides for our every need and He loves us with an unfailing love that we cannot possibly understand. It is exactly like that mustard seed. As our faith and love for Him grows daily, the Kingdom grows daily. It is more than a place. It is a state of the heart and soul. 

Many years ago, some states used that concept as a tagline for their vacation commercial. Those commercials showed happy people exploring, shopping and just enjoying the natural beauty and wonders of that particular place. They ended those commercials with the tagline, “It is more than just a place. It is a state of mind.” To an extent, the Kingdom of God is the same way. It is understanding God’s nature and what He is to us. His very name of Yahweh means “I am”. God does not exist due to some natural or supernatural power. God exists, because He exists. The Kingdom exists because God exists. As members of His Kingdom, we are the outward sign of its existence and its nature. 

In 1 John 4, John tells us what God truly is. “7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Yes, God is love. He is our Creator and Sanctifier. He is all of those things and so much more. When we understand and practice love, we truly become part of His Kingdom. It exists when we reach out to those who are thirsty or hungry and provide for their needs. Just as God provides for us, we, too, must act in love by providing for the needs of others. God provides shelter and sanctuary to us and we can do the same for others.

As we do this daily, the Kingdom grows larger and larger. Our understanding of God increases and so does our love for Him and all of our brothers and sisters around the world. If we practice this regularly, loving one another, we will truly find the Kingdom among us. It is more than just a place. It is the nature of God. Love is His nature and His promise is peace. 

As part of His Kingdom, our steps do not belong to us. They belong to Him. He directs every move and action of our lives. In Psalm 143, David tells us, “8 Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.

As we walk among those in darkness, we can tell them of a Kingdom that knows no boundaries or borders. It is a kingdom that transcends time and space. It is not here or there. It exists in the hearts and lives of those who are called by Him as His children.

I know that there are those who are lost and do not have that mustard seed that grows into the Kingdom of God. You wander from one moment to the next with no purpose in life. But, you do not have to. You can become part of God’s kingdom by accepting His son, Jesus, as your personal Savior and Lord. It isn’t difficult to do, but it does require that you walk daily in a new life provided by the Father and understanding that His son died for your sins to give you that newness of life.

Understanding the Kingdom of God starts with that very small seed, a seed of faith. As your faith grows daily, your understanding of the Kingdom grows daily. The Kingdom will provide you with the shelter and shade in this dry and weary land. It will give you that peace you are seeking so desperately in your life.

For those who are living their lives in accordance to His will and allowing Him to direct your footsteps, we need to live as members of God’s kingdom and always remember that we are the outward sign of that Kingdom. We must love one another and understand what unfailing love truly means and that God is love. When we do all that we are commanded to do, not for reward but for God’s glory and honor, we know that we can stand firm in His grace. 

May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. 
~ Numbers 6:24-26 New Living Translation (NLT)

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