“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Matt 13:44
If a small child were to walk into a room where you were sitting with some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and they had two fists full of saltine crackers, how long would it take that little crumb-snatcher to drop the crackers?
Does the Kingdom of God require self-denial? Of course it does, but it’s worth it.
“The self-denial that Jesus calls us to is always the surrender of a lesser, dying, petty, futile self for a greater eternal one.” ~ Dallas Willard
Crackers or Cookies?
One day someone came to Jesus and asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life? The man was expecting a list of externals of do’s and don’ts. Here is what Jesus said,
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matt 22:37-40
In other words, when someone repents from running their life on their own terms, receives forgiveness and moves in the direction of loving God and loving people, they are in the Kingdom.
If people do not experience authentic transformation, powered by God, to become more loving, joyful, peaceful people—in time their spirituality will deteriorate into the search for some doable externals to prop up their sense of being different from other people.
Back in 1992 I got a phone call from a person checking out our church and he asked, “What version of the Bible did I preach from? Asked if I was a premillennial, asked if I voted for Bush or Clinton, asked if we sang hymns, asked if I believed in evolution and predestination. These important issues are what sociologists call identity markers or boundary markers. They are the tell-tale signs of who is in and who is out of an organization, but they are not the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Sometimes very good things can be turned into identity markers…
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. Matt 23:23
Doesn’t say quit tithing, but rather pay attention to the kind of person you are becoming.
I wonder if in many Churches they have done what the rabbis of Jesus’ day did by reducing the Gospel down to “identity markers.” Turning good things into the ultimate thing. I wonder if that is why the world is not beating down our churches to get into the Kingdom. Why would they?
What kind of life are you living?
When our oldest son, Cole, was 7 years old and our second son, Clinton, was 4 we were eating at a hamburger joint in Denver—they were acting up, getting loud, being boys. I snapped at them, “Sit still, be good, eat your food, stop stealing French fries—don’t spill your drink!” People were starting to stare at our table. Clint needed to go the bathroom and in a terse tone I said, “Cole take Clinton to the bathroom.”
Cole went through a stage (it only last 18 years) where he mercilessly antagonized his younger brothers. All of a sudden I heard Clinton screaming from in the bathroom at the burger joint. I had had enough. I went in mad and grabbed Cole swatted his little bottom and chewed him out. Through sobs Cole said, “But daddy I told Clint to wash his hands afterwards and he accidentally turned on the hot water and burned his hands, I was putting them under cold water when you came in.”
I felt as low as whale dung. What was going on in my life that would let frustration build up in me that would cause me to be more concerned with peace and quiet than to rush to judgment?
That bothered me for days (and is bothering me right now). It caused some real introspection on my part and I remember thinking: Why would anyone want to be a Christ follower if they made their determination by watching me with my family in the last hour?
Is the life I am inviting other people to live the life I am living myself?
Lots of folks in the Church who are just as anxious, fearful, angry, driven, unsettled, exhausted, envious as everybody else in our culture. Why? Because we have settled for identity markers rather than the Gospel that changes lives!
There was time when a people started to do this. Tell them to be quiet and they would shout about Jesus all the louder. Throw them into prison and they would convert the jailer. Whip them and they sang hymns. Starve them and they shared what little they had with less fortunate. Persecute them and it just filled them with joy. Hate them and they would love you back. Exclude them and they would invite you in. Kill them and 100 would rise up and take their place.
How do you stop a people like this? They loved the Kingdom more than anything else in the world. It happened once—it can happen again.
But we have to drop our crackers.