I actually have poolside reads this year, because for the first time ever, I have a pool.
I’ve logged more hours swimming during this sabbatical than the last 35 years combined. That gave me a chance to meander through A Writer’s Coach, by Jack Hart. Excellent stuff. I try to read at least one book on the writing craft every year. That’s so I can be reminded not to do all the stuff I’ve fallen into the habit of doing when I write. My other sizzling summer read was the New Testament (go figure). I kind of already read it every day, because a guy like me needs to be refreshed regularly with the glory that first caught me, or else I’ll start doing dumb things, like giving my life to big boy toys.
During this New Testament go round, I noticed that while Matthew chapters 5 through 7 get a lot of press from readers, you don’t hear very much about chapters 8 through 11.
The first thing that happens when Jesus comes down from the Sermon on the Mount was to heal a leper (chapter 8). That’s a clue that the foregoing chapters about turning the other cheek, and loving your enemies were not supposed to portray some type of ethical utopia, or mass social improvement project that flows from human willpower. You must have the Person of Jesus, otherwise the Sermon on the Mount cannot even begin in your life. He Himself is Kingdom reality come down to the Earth into the lives of men.
The kingdom that Jesus describes is powerful to do things now. That is because the kingdom of God is Him. And the first thing you see the Kingdom-Man doing is cleanse the putrid decay of a poor human. If we teach people to behave better and yet leave them in their spiritually leprous condition, it is all a religious game based on teachings and behavior improvement. Later a Roman Centurion believes the word of Jesus so that his servant can be healed of paralysis. Then we find crowds of people healed and demons driven out of them. Jesus does not leave men and women in their secret sins and spiritual death.
But chapters 8-11 are not only about sick, sinful people being cleansed and delivered. Jesus speaks a goading word to those who think they have more important and pressing things to do than follow Him. The Kingdom has a way of calling us into commitment, even when we hesitate for all kinds of good reasons. We also will find Jesus calming a storm, because the kingdom has the power to extinguish Satan-inspired drama.
The end of this section shows us people answering the call of service to Christ. The Kingdom is nothing, if not compelling. Yet it makes no promises to these people of comfort and safety, but honestly speaks to them of suffering, and a way to go through it all.
At the very end, Jesus offers to all of us who are tired of religious forms, rest for their souls, because the kingdom of God is not a tiresome, grinding affair. It reflects purpose with ultimate satisfaction.
That’s what I’m involved in, and have been for decades. I’m old now, at least to the fresh youthful groups who have repopulated our planet. But when I touch the kingdom in the Person of Jesus, I don’t fret about the extra weight, or white hair, or even about the certain day when I’m going to leave this world. In fact, I feel younger, even timeless, in a certain sense.
The kingdom is powerful that way.