The upside-down Kingdom

But God’s Kingdom functions differently Feb 13, 2023

Mark 9:35 Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.

Mark 10:31 Many who are the greatest now will be least important in the world to come, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.

Saturday we had a delightful women’s retreat at our church that was a total group effort. Besides our planning team of five, we had ten table leaders, three intercessors, a musician who came to help with the worship, three babysitters, three caterers, two custodians, one artist who designed the cover of our handout, and at least six others who helped in various ways behind the scenes. Every person’s contribution mattered.

Thank you, Elise!

For me, part of what made the retreat lovely was the wonderful attitude of each person involved. I detected zero ambition to impress, to be noticed (even for being a great servant!), or to profit from the event for some private self-serving agenda.

I believe God smiled. And we felt his joy.

I’ve thought of a way you can serve people you don’t even know, honor the Lord, and make me smile:

  1. Stop for a moment and think about your last week or month. Where has God met you or cared for you in a special way? In what situation did you face difficulty BUT GOD intervened and changed the outcome in ways only he can do? Perhaps you are still dealing with that situation but God has changed your attitude about it … Sometimes we’re so busy or focused on resolving the challenges of life that we don’t stop to notice what God is doing, loving us through others, surprising us with his provision … Or maybe he has encouraged you by bringing to mind something special he did for you in the past.
  • Write down one of those “God encounters” in one page and send it to me ( to post during Lent. I want the blog posts during Lent to be full of YOUR God-honoring stories, giving evidence of his involvement and care in our world now. I’m looking for ten stories to share between Ash Wednesday (2/22) and Good Friday (4/7).

The “God encounter” stories eight women spontaneously shared at the retreat were some of the richest takeaways for me personally. You don’t know how much your experience can bless and encourage someone else. And writing it down will preserve the memory of God’s goodness for you to refer to when you need encouragement.

I KNOW God is at work in your life, loving you and caring for you. If you don’t see it, ask him to show you, and maybe talk through with someone you trust what you’re experiencing. It can even be anonymous if you feel better that way, though I believe God is honored when we “own” his love for us.

I can’t wait to read and share your story!

Real authority

But Jesus came to serve

Mark 1:22 The people were amazed at Jesus’s teaching, for he taught with real authority, quite unlike the teachers of religious law.

Mark 10:42-45 Jesus called his disciples together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant … for even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Philippians 2:5-7, 14 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. … Live clean, innocent lives as children of God.

One of my favorite books when I was a child was The Scarlet Pimpernel, published in 1905 by Baroness Orczy. I loved the fact that Sir Percy led a double life, apparently a wealthy fop, but secretly risking his life to save others. The ridicule Percy experienced actually protected him–no one suspected he could be the one carrying out amazing heroic deeds. Orczy wrote this long before Marvel popularized the idea of a superhero who seemed a mild-mannered, ineffectual, or unremarkable person. In fact–just after writing that–I read on Wikipedia that Stan Lee, the Marvel co-creator, read The Scarlet Pimpernel as a boy and has called Sir Percy the first character who could be called a superhero.

I’m not sure I can agree with Stan Lee, and you probably anticipate what I’m going to say. The Gospels show us members of Jesus’s family and his neighbors not thinking there was anything special about Jesus. He was looked down on for his humble place in society, for coming from a nothing place (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”), for not having wealth or credentials or position. He was killed like a common criminal.

Yet Jesus’s words and acts as a teacher, a healer, a servant, and a redeemer have impacted the world, transforming lives, for two thousand years.

In the current film series “The Chosen,” early episodes show us Jesus playing with children. In the episode about Jesus healing the paralytic let down through the roof, kids watch the spectacle from another roof nearby. OCD Matthew awkwardly climbs up beside them and starts to tell the children who Jesus is. “We know him,” they nod, startling Matthew. We can imagine Matthew’s churning thoughts: Who is this man?

By Allen Hogan. I couldn’t find one of the kids on the wall with Matthew.

Real authority comes not from words alone, but from deeds and attitudes that match the words, done not to garner attention but out of love. It’s called integrity. Some of integrity’s fruits are safety and trustworthiness. I love this passage from Henri Nouwen’s little book, The Inner Voice of Love (pages 49 and 50):

A part of you was left behind very early in your life … it is full of fears. Meanwhile, you grew up with many survival skills. But you want your self to be one. So you have to bring home the part of you that was left behind. That is not easy, because you have become quite a formidable person, and your fearful part does not know if it can safely dwell with you. … Jesus dwells in your fearful, never fully received self. Where you are most human, most yourself, weakest, there Jesus lives. Bringing your fearful self home is bringing Jesus home. As long as your vulnerable self does not feel welcomed by you, it keeps so distant that it cannot show you its true beauty and wisdom. Thus, you survive without truly living. … When you become more childlike, your small, fearful self will no longer feel the need to dwell elsewhere. It will begin to look to you as home. Be patient … Gradually you will become one, and you will find that Jesus is living in your heart and offering you all you need.

Nothing enchants me more than discovering quiet integrity. It’s as thrilling now in real life as it was for me through fiction as a child. And no one embodies this more than Jesus, loving us in the past, the present, and the future.

This is an old song with a still-relevant message.

Radical love

But Jesus’ message is different

Matthew 28:16-20 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Hebrews 10:24 Let us think of ways to motivate each other to love and good works.

Shutterstock: askib

The contrast between the message the guards were ordered to spread by the Jewish leaders and the message Jesus told his disciples to teach could not be more different:

The premise of the Jewish leaders: If we lie convincingly enough, we can get away with murder. Jesus’ premise: God loves you so much I was willing to lay down my life for you.

The intent of the Jewish message: to save their own skin. Jesus’ intent: to save the world.

The authority on which the orders of the Jewish leaders were based: human distortion of biblical teaching (Matthew 23:23 “You ignore the more important aspects of the law: justice, mercy, and faith”). Jesus’ authority: given him by his Father, the Creator, Sustainer, and Sovereign over heaven and earth.

The heart of the Jewish message: “Maintain the status quo with us in charge.” The heart of Jesus’ message: Love God and others (Matthew 22:37-39); lay down your own life to serve others (Matthew 20:28).

Radical love. Radical service.

What does that mean to you today? I’m on a retreat with a group of lovely and strong-minded people. Many opportunities to recognize ways I’m more like the Jewish leaders than like Jesus, and to realize how generous Jesus’ love is (even for me!). Opportunities to grow!

Recapturing the joy of serving others

But Jesus came to serve

Matthew 20:25-28 But Jesus called his disciples together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people . . . But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I enjoy the way my just-turned-two, almost-two, and four-year-old grandchildren love to help. Of course, “helping” can mean dumping more water on the floor than over the dishes and spreading dirt around more than sweeping it into the dustpan. The pancake batter requires a few more stirs from Grammy before it goes in the pan.

Shutterstock: Ole.CNX

But what I do, they want to do too. “I myself,” says Talita, struggling to get one foot into each pant leg and her shoes on the right feet–easier with Caleb’s shoes than her own. Last winter, Caleb walked behind his father industriously spreading snow back over a cleared walk, proud of his mastery of a shovel. Liliana claps her hands when she successfully clicks the upper clasp of her car seat belt and gets all her playthings back in the toy basket. The suggestion of cleaning up as a surprise for Mommy still elicits smiles and enthusiasm.

Why is it such fun for kids to copy each other and adults? Ah, a better question, perhaps: Why isn’t it more fun for me to imitate Jesus? How can I recover the simple delight of service?

Food for thought as I head into my day!