The Kingdom of Heaven is…

The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.

This is a parable that I’m sure you are all familiar with. Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man plants, and although it was a really small seed, grew into a tree that birds could rest in.

I was thinking about this and did a bit of research which I think gives us a bit more insight into what Jesus might have been saying to us.

It seems that there are at least four different contenders for which type of mustard seed that Jesus might have been referring to. Sinapsis nigra, the black mustard seed appears to be the most likely candidate. It grows in the right area, with the right climate and produces the right size of seeds. (others that may also fit the bill are Sinapsis arvense or Sinapsis alba)

The black mustard seed is known for its rapid germination. It seems that it begins to grow the day after it is planted, and grows rapidly in one season.  Although not actually the smallest seed in Palestine at the time of Jesus, it would have certainly been the smallest that was planted and cultivated.  (between 1 and 3mm in diameter) 

In order to grow, a seed needs to die, germinate, take root and breakthrough the soil. 

When Jesus said the Kingdom of heaven was like a mustard seed, what was He saying? If we understand the Kingdom of heaven to be a place where the rule and reign of the King is realised, and we apply that rule and reign to our lives we notice the following.

Without Christ, we begin as something small and insignificant. We have no real structure, and can easily be blown away on the wind. 

When we surrender at the foot of the cross, the outer shell is broken away, and there is a new germination of our inner being. This takes root quickly and we begin to grow. The ideal of heaven is that our growth is rapid. There is no waiting around for the right conditions. Everything we need is supplied, and we flourish, demonstrating the power and majesty of the Creator. 

As we grow, we reproduce, more seeds that will yield still more potential. There are two purposes to our growth. We are positioned ideally to allow other to rest, to take refuge and shelter from all the world throws at them, and we reproduce, more seeds. The seeds can be used for flavour – we are to flavour those around us with testimony of the King. New trees can be grown, to increase capacity for allowing still others to rest and take shelter.

One of the errors the church in the West makes far too often is that when we see a small mustard seed planted, we try to control its growth. We water it and feed it with small nurture groups and special ‘new Christian’ classes. We prune it ever so carefully, to make sure the growth is shaped into what we believe a new follower should look like, taking off the leaves and branches that don’t quite fit or look right, and we find ourselves with powerless Christians that come to church out of obligation or habit, and never actually fulfil their potential to grow new trees and shelter those who need it.

Jesus said that if we were His friends, we would do what He did (and greater things than that too). Let’s not put too many restrictions on the new growth, the growth that is supposed to be rapid, that is supposed to surprise given the small beginnings. Teach them, yes. Encourage them, yes. 

Tell them they can’t, simply because we haven’t. Absolutely not. 

Who does He say you are?

I saw a quote today attributed to Mohammad Ali. He said “I am the greatest. I said that before I knew I was.”

He wasn’t the greatest at the time he said it, but was aware of his destiny and what he was created to achieve. I imagine that when he first said it, there were very few that believed him. Undetered, he kept telling himself that he was the greatest, and once he believed, he went about convincing others that it was true too.

Many people in the church (certainly in the UK) are very cautious about saying things that are not true. Often this is borne out of wisdom, but my concern is that in doing so we prevent some to fulfil their destiny by speaking out truth as God sees things. At its heart, prophecy is seeing a little further ahead, and a little deeper than can be seen in the natural realm. It is speaking the truth that will be, rather than what appears to be.

James tells us that the power of life and death is in the tongue, so speaking positive things about people, including ourselves, will help us to experience life to the full. It could also be said that the opposite is true. If you constantly tell yourself that you are no good (generally, or at something specific), or that you can’t, or that no one loves you, it will not be long until you believe that. The more you believe it yourself, and tell others, many of them will believe it too. It won’t be a conscious thing, but they will.

I know that being British puts a bit of a hold on being able to be too positive about ourselves, so, if that is the case for you may I encourage you to listen to what God says about you.

You are known. God knew you before you were formed (Jeremiah 1:5). He has had a plan for you since before you were even thought of.

You are His workmanship, created to do good things. (Ephesians 2:10) We are created in His image.

You are a child of God (John 1:12, Romans 8:17) We have been adored into His family, and we are joint heirs with Christ.

You are friend of Jesus (John 15:15) He doesn’t call you servants or slaves, He calls you friend, and shares things with you.

You are not subject to any condemnation (Romans 8:1) (and if He doesn’t condemn you, it is a pretty good bet that you shouldn’t condemn you either)

Called to be a saint (1 Cor 1:2). I think we spend to long believing (even if we don’t actually say it) that we are a sinner. That isn’t how God sees us. My experience is that if we believe that we are sinners, we will end up doing just that. If we tell ourselves that God sees us a saints, we will begin to live like saints.

You are being transformed into His image.(2 Cor 3:18). The closer we walk with Him, converse with Him and listen to what He says about you and what you are capable of, the more like Him you will become.

The bible says that you are glorious (2 Cor 3:18). He is transforming us from one degree of glory to another. Even if you don’t feel as glorious as someone else, the truth is that you start glorious and become more glorious.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. The bible is full of messages about His feelings about you. I guess the most obvious one is that He loved each of us so much that He sent His Son, who willingly offered His life to make it possible for relationship with the Father to be restored.

Perhaps that is the greatest statement of all. He considered you to be worth it. How much more evidence do you need?

Think about these things

The nation (and most of the world), is in lockdown. For months restrictions have been placed on us. There isn’t a person in the country that hasn’t been affected. Families have been unable to visit each other, shopping has changed for ever, in time we will have to come to terms with a new normal. 

Despite the restrictions I consider myself very fortunate. I have been able to do something that before lockdown I was thrilled to be able to take some time away from. Since lockdown, I have been happy to be able to leave the house and go to work. That’s not to say it’s been easy. Work too has changed. Routine has disappeared. Tasks that used to fill the day are now completed in a fraction of the time. Tests that didn’t exist a few months ago now take up more than a full day’s work. There is little expectation that numbers of Coronavirus tests to be performed will decrease anytime soon. Perhaps the type of test to be carried out will change from testing to see if someone has the virus to testing to see if they have already had it (the promised antibody test). My suspicion is that somehow, we will be expected to find a way to do both.

I know of others who have not been outside their own home since lockdown started. They have had to communicate with the outside world and their family through windows and online. 

Many of you will either have had similar experiences, or variations on these two extremes.

The question I want to ask you is while you are restricted in movement, with time to do things that are out of the ordinary for you, what are you thinking about? 

Some will be dreaming of life after lockdown, to getting back to the things that they used to do. Others will be thinking about holidays they want to go on, or simply to be able to walk around without fear. 

For a lot of people, fear really is gripping them. They are struggling to cope without interaction with others. Sitting at home with no outlet can be crippling. 

When Paul and Timothy wrote to the church at Philippi, they gave some suggestions for things to think about. 

They wrote “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is an excellence, if anything is worthy of praise, think about these things.” 

Don’t let fear take hold. Life will never be the same as it was before coronavirus. We need to get used to a new normal. The more we think about true, honourable, just, pure, lovely and commendable things, the more we will be able to shape whatever the new normal is into something that is better than that which we have had to leave behind.

More than just a ride

So you wanna be a cowboy, don’t you know it’s more than just a ride?”

Just one line from an album by Bon Jovi, but one that has stuck with me since I first heard it – more years ago than I care to remember.

The thing is I have applied the question to pretty much everything I have ever done, particularly when it comes to my faith.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been times that I have forgotten the answer, but the question seems to keep cropping up.

Let me put it another way “So you wanna be a Christian, don’t you know it’s more than just a prayer?”

For me becoming a Christian doesn’t happen simply when you pray a prayer. It is a change of lifestyle, a commitment to try, with God’s help to get things right. It is an about turn, a purposeful march in the opposite direction. Ultimately it is a change in management, from one who was determined to bring destruction, to one whose wants to bring life in a way that I never thought was possible.

The term Christian really means someone who has put Christ first and foremost in their lives, someone who has chosen to model their life on His example. “little Christ” may be a better way of saying it. In the same way that in many ways my son is a ‘mini me’, I am to be a mini Christ. In time, I hope my son will grow to be more like me, leaving the bad bits to one side, but I try to be an example that is worth following.

Christ is the ultimate example of what I hope to be. The more I learn about Him, His ways and His mission, the more I want to emulate it.

Which is why when I meet or hear of people that profess to be Christians, the first thing I look for is whether I can see evidence of the one who lent His name to the label in the way they live their lives.

Too often today, the example that the world sees of Christ is people that have prayed a prayer to get them a ticket to heaven, but with no sense of change in their day to day lives. If Christ truly is living in me, then surely, I should be doing what He did. 1 John 2:6 says that “if we abide in Him, we ought to walk in the same way which He walked.” That means having compassion for those that don’t deserve it, loving the unlovable and feeding the hungry. That means healing the sick and telling others of the reason for the hope that we have.  

John 14 quotes Jesus “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (emphasis mine)

Christianity looks like something. There will be fruit if you are connected to the Vine. It’s not about praying a prayer and then going to church occasionally (or even regularly). It’s about changing everything, because He is the pearl of great price. Totally worth it.

So – you wanna be a Christian – it’s more than just a ride – but what a ride.