The Kingdom of God and the Least of These

I am currently reading Shane Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution,” a book which is really expanding my concept of the kingdom of God and stretching me to ask some pretty tough questions. We heard Shane speak at a conference lately, and felt empowered and convicted by his message. Shane tells of his journey coming from the Bible belt of America and being “born again” six or seven different times at a youth convention (his story is told hilariously and graciously) and then moving on to college where he hoped to experience true Christianity – or at least find out what it was all about. He didn’t find it in the classroom, or with his classmates or professors, however. He found Jesus in the streets. His story stems from there…

Shane’s book has stirred tremendous controversy in Christian circles, but I honestly think if you read the book in maturity, with Shane’s heart in mind, the book is not a call to condemn American Christianity or convince all Christians to sell everything they own and give to the poor. Certainly there are some who chose to do so, and Shane is one of those, but the heart of the book is not to produce more “Shanes” but to produce followers of Jesus who seek to embrace the kingdom of God as Jesus did while he was walking on the soil.

One thing I have learned about following Jesus is that when Jesus is pruning branches, or stirring my heart toward growth, there are multiple occurrences of consistent themes laid on my heart for some time. Lately, God is speaking to me about the poor. God is speaking to JD about the poor too. We felt God speaking to us about the poor (and money) before we went to this conference and before we bought this book. It causes us to reflect, ask hard questions, and pray.

This post may appear vague, because we have no answers yet. We are weeding through questions, ideas, and scripture to discern Jesus’ heart for us in reaction to his call to encounter the kingdom. One of the tremendous impacts of this inner working is how it might affect our ministry. If we are to be making disciples of teens, we must connect them with the Kingdom of God that belongs to the least of these.

I might add here, that if I were to read Claiborne’s book a few years ago, I might be tempted to take his message and run with it radically – making overt changes in my life. I have since grown to understand that living radically for the sake of living radically for Jesus produces as much legalism as obeying a set of moral guidelines for the sake of pleasing God. Therefore, my prayer is that God would fill my heart with compassion and understanding of Jesus’ heart in order to carefully discern the Way Jesus has set for us – knowing and trusting that God will reveal truth in God’s time, and in God’s fullness.

Questions I’m pondering with the Lord:

– If the Kingdom of God belongs to the ‘Least of These,’ how can we full experience the kingdom of God if we do not step outside suburban America – or at leas the comfort of our own homes. How do we do this without checking it off our list of Christian duties – making it a lifestyle rather than ‘works’

– Jesus sent the disciples on their first mission with absolutely nothing. Jesus meant for the disciples to depend on God for everything. Do I depend on God for everything? Probably not. How do we honor God with our money, spend/use/save it wisely (not foolishly), but still depend on God? The quick easy answer is to say that God gives us our paycheck or is the giver and provider of all monetary gifts – which, while true and important to acknowledge, is not entirely consistent with the way Jesus trained his disciples.

– Jesus said no love is greater than laying down one’s life for his/her friends. Jesus did this perfectly – but I wonder, if our definition of “friends” is limited…

– James says caring for the widows and orphans is pure religion (devotion to God). Widows and orphans, taken in historical context (and to some extent our own context now) were those who couldn’t take care of themselves. They weren’t allowed to provide for themselves (especially because women often could not find jobs). Who are those people here? How do we take care of them? How do we do this out of compassion and a livelihood – not out of social charity or obligation?

These are just a few of the questions I’m wrestling through. It is sound, healthy wrestling… driven by peace in my heart and confirmed by the Spirit’s working in JD’s heart as well. We know there are consequences to wrestling through these questions – but I believe God has brought us to a place of understanding… this is a heart issue – not a “fly to a third world country and live there for the rest of your life” issue.

Anyone else struggle through this stuff? Thoughts? Your own inner-workings of Jesus in your heart?

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7 thoughts on “The Kingdom of God and the Least of These

  1. christiangadfly says:

    It took Jesus’ disciples a long time before they began to get a clue what Jesus was really about, but they were never perfect. Being a disciple is about growing and learning. While we need to be on guard about becoming legalistic about the paths we adopt in our walk, it’s possible that the fear of becoming so prevents us from doing what we need to do. One key for me has been whether I expect others to lead their lives the way I do. If I begin to judge others because they don’t do the things I do, then I can be fairly confident that I’m probably crossing the line into legalism. Hang in there and keep your eyes on the Master. Our primary concern should be what He thinks, not what others may think, or even sometimes what we ourselves think.

  2. Heidi says:

    I am amazed that this same theme is echoing in our lives, and in the lives of so many others in the body of Christ right now.

    Our thinking has been so challenged in the last few years (and particularly the last months), and our priorities shifting in regards to “what is really important.” And that is what we are working on getting a grasp on as it relates to family and community and church.

    Blessings!
    Heidi

  3. christiekiley says:

    I like what you said about how, if we become radical for Jesus for the sake of being radical, then we can cross over into legalism. I agree with the first comment, that we cannot judge others – Christian or not – who choose not to embrace such a perspective and plan of action. What, then, did Jesus do around/toward people like that? Didn’t He just keep teaching about the Kingdom of God and showing grace and love in a radical way that made people turn their heads? I don’t really know what that looks like in our culture today. But it’s true that it is a theme that has begun to penetrate all levels of ministry in America, as far as I can tell, especially in the youth/college age range. Can you imagine what this world would look like if our generation and the one after us was able to live with a heart like Shane Claiborne writes about? Watch out world. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

  4. I read the words, “The Least of These,” and I cannot help but think of the Compassion ministry. No other ministry excels at partnering with the church, bringing children into relationship with Jesus Christ, discipling them in the faith AND providing for their essential physical needs.

    Nice words! God bless.

    cd

    (*Might you consider adding Jesus + Compassion to your blog roll?)

  5. anniegroves says:

    christiangadfly – Well put! Was it Bonhoeffer who said that to avoid doing/not doing something out of fear of legalism is to in fact engage in another form of legalism? Tricky concept that legalism! Thank you for your thoughts and encouragement!
    heidi – I agree – this theme is winding its way throughout the nation and into the hearts of followers of Jesus. Now to only see the impact… doers instead of just hearers
    christiekiley – you and your life and your words constantly encourage me sister. thank you.
    compassiondave – I agree – Compassion does an incredible job reaching the Kingdom. We have a little Compassion girl in the Dominican Republic and have a heart to teach our youth more about poverty – and put it into action through Compassion. Thanks for your comment – I will put your blog on my blogroll!

  6. Aunt Marti says:

    God has been walking me through poverty lives up close and real at the Pregnancy Center and in my apartment ministry.

    Walking with Jesus–and meaning it–is always scary, always challenging, and always incredibly exhilerating. I often feel like Peter out on the water and then looking down…YIKES! I can’t do this!

    Annie–I LOVE growing old! The stacking of years and failures and victories in Jesus DO all work together for good. My learning curve (today) is better. I failed enough times to know what to avoid (that mud in the face got really tiring)–and even how to face another mud fight.

    Someday I will be able to express it better–but for now, growing old in Jesus is definately an E ticket! 🙂 Aunt Marti

  7. Jen Thompson says:

    Great thoughts lil’ Anne. I found IR to be very… challenging in the offensive-to-my-current-lifestyle kind of way.
    Not sure what to think about blind radicalism turning legalism… I’ll have to think about that one for a bit. It’s tempting for me to that that doubt leads to stagnation and stagnation leads to non-movement which in turn leads to no affact. But I’ve always been impulsive. I do agree, that good things (like living simply and sustainably) take time and that you cannot apply market mentality (get-it-got-it–good!) to such an alternative lifestyle… the “old way” must be removed piece by piece and slowly replaced with its alternative… until, of course, you’ve reached nirvana. Just kidding! Until you are living the call of the Upside Down Kingdom and fully modeling disarming life of Christ, I suppose. Which, like the sinless life is never truly obtainable. We might not ever get there, but we’re called to try. Glad to have someone caught in the same web of contemplation. Love you Annie

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