Like many smaller churches, we have trouble meeting our ministry budget. In the past, we have engaged in appeals and fund-raisers, but still our revenues are insufficient to cover our expenses. Last week we discussed converting some of our land into a revenue source, but the scope and size of the project were not ideal. We voted not to proceed with this project, but we know something needs to be done.
As the meeting progressed, the words Jesus spoke to the crowd, known as the “Sermon on the Mount” reverberated in my mind:
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:31–33
We know that God knows what we need – food, drink, clothes – and that we ought not adopt an earthly obsession with chasing down these things. We know that God instructs us to instead engage in heavenly pursuits and chase after the kingdom and righteousness of God. This proper perspective leads the heavenly minded to gain the promises of God’s reign, as well as satisfaction of all their earthly needs. One application of this portion of scripture is personal: in a culture of “keeping up with the Joneses”, we must not get caught up in running after the trappings of earth and instead seek the treasures of heaven. Another application is ecclesial (church-related): Calvary ought not focus our energies on account balances but on kingdom building.
But what does it look like to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”? Unpacking the biblical meaning of the “kingdom” is as hard as nailing Jello© to the wall. Understanding the kingdom of God is akin to defining the United Kingdom: it includes both a reality (an actual place) and a conception (the nature and ethic of the ruling crown). When we are told to seek this kingdom, we seek the habitation of heaven (for ourselves and others) and we seek to demonstrate the culture of the King. We get a glimpse of this kingdom – the dwelling place and desires of the king – toward the end of Revelation:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4
Perhaps this means we are supposed to seek the presence of God (through worship), the removal of suffering (through instruction and service), the elimination of death (through prayer and evangelism) and the end of mourning and crying and pain (through fellowship). These are the pursuits of those seeking His kingdom. If we can do that, while maintaining what is right, just and true for ourselves and others, all His manifest blessings for this world and the next will be given to us as well. Then, whether we balance our budget or blow it all, we will give honor and glory to God.
“LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart….” Psalm 15:1–2
As we were driving home from vacation, I was confronted with my own waywardness. Somewhere on Interstate 81 it began: “Dad, you’re breaking the law.” A sweet 6 year-old boy sitting behind me recognized the vehicle speed on our GPS had turned red – I was driving above the posted speed limit. My behavior, I justified, was in accordance with societal norms and everyone knows that the police won’t stop you on the highway unless you are travelling more than 10 miles over the posted limits. But, yes, son, I was breaking the law.
I am a lawbreaker. I am guilty of violating the rules of the road. And it doesn’t stop there. I am also guilty of telling ‘little white’ lies, which I justify by telling myself that an innocent half-truth to spare another’s feeling is better than sharing the whole painful truth. My guilt extends to stealing as well, which I justify by saying that I am simply borrowing another person’s things without permission, assuming that those who have rightful ownership do not care or will not notice that the purloined property has been taken. I am guilty of violating a number of other laws as well.
I am a lawbreaker. My walk is not blameless, my deeds are not righteous and my words are not truthful: I am in trouble. Because I am a lawbreaker I cannot dwell with God. Is there any hope for someone who willfully violates the mandates of society and of God?
“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” Romans 5:17–18
Paul’s teaching to the church in Rome states that my lawbreaking ways result in condemnation (eternal separation from our holy Father) but the sacrificing atonement of Christ through the cross results in justification (‘just as if I’d’ never sinned) and life (eternal enjoyment in the presence of our holy Father). I have been declared innocent in and through Christ.
I am a lawbreaker who has been pardoned because of the punishment of another. Knowing this, I do not claim Christ’s sacrifice and scars as a ‘get out of jail free’ card while continuing in my lawless ways but rather I seek to honor the pain and punishment the Savior endured by living the life He desires – to be blameless, righteous and truthful. Will I live perfectly from this point on? I hope so. Will my son point out my offenses again? I hope not. All I can say with certainty is that I long to live a life worthy of the calling I have received in and through Christ…and stop seeking ways to justify why the rules don’t apply to me.