When I was a twenty-eight-year-old pastor I thought it would be a good idea to preach through the book of Romans verse-by-verse. I was out of my depth. If you have ever spent much time in the book you might know that it is a complicated book. But I had moxy, if not naivete, when I was twenty-eight, so I went for it.
One morning I was preaching hard on a complicated passage. And as often was the case for me back then, if I was uncertain about a text, I turned up the volume. There’s an old preacher legend that says he wrote in his notes, “Weak point here, yell louder.”
That was me.
At one weak area I got loud and then I got quiet, not really knowing what to say next. In that pause in my sermon, a little eight-year-old boy said in a loud voice to his mother, “Mamma, what’s that man talking about?”
I looked at him and said, “I have no idea, son. No idea at all.”
The church laughed, and I bowed my red-face and closed in prayer. It was a scarring moment for me. I rarely preach from Romans to this day.
And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.” ~ Matthew 11:12
Mamma, what’s Jesus talking about?
That’s not as esoteric as you might think. Bottom line, the kingdom of heaven means someone is coming to put everything right, to right all wrongs. We are all looking for hearth and home that will allow us to flourish as God intended. My problem is that I have a habit of looking in all the wrong places.
The Kingdom of God is the natural home of the soul. ~ Dallas Willard
We all long for a place like that. And in that search for home we will find ourselves in places that make it hard to come home. It will take a fierce spirituality to make that journey.
My son, Clinton, was raised in the Church but now is deeply immersed in the art world of Los Angeles. No one in his world is interested in the Kingdom of God. In fact, they are violently opposed to it. My wife and I love him very much and pray for him almost every day that he would return to the faith of his youth.
But one of the most powerful reasons it will be difficult for Clinton to come back to the faith is because he would have to go against the flow.
We hold our world views for a combination of three reasons:
1. Intellectual: It makes sense to us.
2. Emotional: It resonates with my feelings.
3. Social: My friends or important influencers hold a similar position
That’s why I can out argue someone on an intellectual basis and still not convince them to change their minds. Statistics, facts, reasonable arguments often don’t work in winning someone to faith because of the other two factors that are still in play.
That is why I pray that God will send my son, a spiritual guide, an influencer, who will win his heart over and then, maybe, just maybe, he will change his mind about Jesus.
Jesus says, “Look at John the Baptist. Because he got radicalized by the kingdom of heaven and that message, he’s an outsider. Anyone who wants the kingdom of God, anyone who wants to follow me, must be willing to take the scorn of other people.”
If or when my son comes back to his faith and is radicalized by the grace of Jesus, he will be scorned in the community that he loves right now. They will see him as a man in a hair shirt, eating locust, and crying out in the desert. They will see him as a wild man. It will take a move of God and the heart of a hero for Clinton to go against that social flow.
Jesus says anyone who will receive the kingdom of heaven and realize its truth is going to look like John the Baptist to some people, sometimes. You have to be willing to have people think you’re crazy.
Once John the Baptist got ahold of the idea of the Kingdom and a coming King, what did it do to him? It turned him into someone crying out in the wilderness, wearing a hairy shirt. It meant everything to him. It radicalized him. It also put him outside of the power structures of the day.
Jesus says, “When you see him, you don’t see a person who’s a nobleman. He’s not someone from the king’s palaces. He’s spiritually intense.” Once he realized the kingdom of heaven was real and it was coming, it meant everything to him. It dominated his life.
Then Jesus says, “Look at yourselves. Look at how you listen to the message of the kingdom.” Some of you say, “Hey, that’s very interesting and thought provoking.” Some of you find it inspirational. Yet the status quo in your life has not been challenged. You want to hear about the kingdom of God and go on with business as usual. That’s impossible.
Like my son, and, perhaps your child or grandchild, I was not living a life of faith when I was in my late teens and early twenty’s. I was Living a very prodigal life of doing whatever I wanted with whomever I wanted. My parents were quite concerned for my life and they both prayed daily for my soul. One time my father told me about the nature of his prayer for me and it went something like this:
Lord, You have set your heart upon my son’s soul. As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, I trust you to do whatever it takes to make Joe like Jesus—even if it breaks every bone in his body.
My Dad said that was a hard prayer to pray. It was a spiritual forceful prayer; even a violent prayer. But it worked, didn’t it? I’ll pray for your loved one; you pray for mine.
Be bold. Be fierce.
Mamma, that’s what Jesus was talking about.