What is Jesus saying to me today?
I ask that question of myself now and then. Most of the time I respond to the question with this thought: Oops, I forgot to listen! But when I do listen, I often hear him say to me what he said to Peter, James and John. “Larry, come and follow me.”
What a great invitation! It’s a wonderful way to start each day—hearing Jesus invite you to follow him through out the day, to go with him where he’s going and to learn from him as you travel along.
Jesus talked about the place he was going all the time. He called it the kingdom of heaven. On one occasion Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a great banquet—a big party given by a king.
If you read the story in Luke 14:12-24 you’ll notice some distinctive things about the kingdom of heaven. One, the guest list is unbelievable. Everyone is invited, not just the cool kids. The king doesn’t just invite his friends and relatives, and his rich neighbors; instead, he invites the one’s who are usually left out—people who are typically excluded and don’t have the ability to return the favor.
Here’s another thing about the king’s banquet, there’s always more room. In the story Jesus says the king sends his servants out to the highways and bi-ways to invite more people. Empty seats at the banquet table are not acceptable. The king wants his house to be full of guest. The more, the merrier.
There’s one more thing about the story, it ends with the king being disappointed by the number of people who miss out on the party.
It’s hard to believe but it’s true; everyday Jesus invites us to join him at the party called life and we forget to show up. Sometimes we don’t slow down enough to hear the invitation; other times, we get the invite but we have “more important” things to do. We get so busy making a living we forget to truly live.
In the morning when you wake up, listen for the invitation. Jesus is inviting you to follow him. Send the RSVP before you get out of bed and then get up and follow Jesus to the party God has planned for you.
Jesus was a master artist who used stories to paint word pictures of abstract things that are invisible and difficult to see—things like God and God’s kingdom. I think that’s one reason the Apostle John called Jesus the Word. His stories help us see what life is supposed to look like.
I want to invite you to take what we’re calling at Church of the Promise, the Kingdom Encounter Challenge! Over the next few weeks I challenge you to re-read some of the word pictures Jesus paints about the kingdom of heaven on earth. Look close. Listen and reflect on the words. What do you see? What do you hear? Do the pictures comfort you or disturb you? Do the pictures call for a response? Do they move you to action or do they invite you to rest?
My best teachers encouraged me to ask questions. They would say, “The only bad question is the one you don’t ask.” I suppose that’s good advice. But truth be told, I’ve heard people ask some pretty stupid questions . . . myself included. Here are my top five stupid questions:
How do you get off a nonstop flight?
If you eat a cold hot pocket, is it just a pocket?
Why do we call them restrooms when no one goes there to rest?
If you pamper a cow, do you get spoiled milk?
Why do you need an appointment to see a psychic?
Stupid questions don’t bother me too much, but if someone asks a stupid question at the end of long meeting—right before the mind-numbing meeting is about to end—my insides become unglued.
I bring this up to say . . . worse than asking a stupid question is asking the wrong question. When we ask the wrong question at the wrong time we might solve the wrong problem. The right answers to wrong questions may create new and bigger problems.
Asking the wrong theological question can leave us living on the surface of life and prevent us from experiencing the deeper wonders of God and God’s kingdom. I wonder it that’s why some of my prayers go unanswered? Do I keep asking God the wrong questions?
Here’s an example of a wrong question being asked at the wrong time. After Jesus came back to life he appeared to his friends on multiple occasions. The Bible says, “He presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” It was his final teaching series before he left the planet.
Acts 1:6 says on one occasion, right before Jesus ascended to heaven, his friends asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Listen to his response, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”
Jesus doesn’t answer the question. When I read between the lines I hear Jesus saying, you guys are still asking the wrong question. Its time to stop thinking my kingdom is about your nationalistic interest. If you keep your head stuck in the old paradigm you’re going to miss the new thing God is doing. Quit asking how to make the nation great again and start asking, how can our great nation bless the world?
Jesus redirected their question and pointed them towards a future promise and the role they were to play in God’s new agenda: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
It’s time for us church folk to evaluate the questions we’re asking. Do our questions focus too much on how to make great churches? Do we ask God too many questions about how to make America great? Perhaps we need to ask more questions about God’s kingdom and how to receive and steward the gift of God’s Spirit.
Can you imagine how surprised the disciples were on that first Easter morning? Some of the women watched as they laid him in the tomb and rolled the stone over the entrance. There was absolutely no way they could have conceived or even hoped for what God had in store for their future.
I like the way Luke records the story. When Jesus pops into the room where they were meeting behind close doors, Jesus says, “Peace, be with you.” Luke reports, “They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” And then Jesus shows them his hands and feet, and asks for something to eat . . . everyone knows ghost don’t eat. After he snacks on a piece of broiled fish, Luke records one of my favorite lines in the resurrection narratives: “They still did not believe it because of joy and amazement.” I think this is Luke’s way of saying; this is too good to be true!
God designed life with the intention of surprising us with joy and amazement. As you walk through your day how many times do you say, this is too good to be true? When we set our eyes on Jesus and place our hope in his self-giving love and our confidence in the power of his resurrection, we will be surprised at the way God shows up in the little details of our lives.
What would change if we lived everyday as if it were Easter morning? Would we see people differently and appreciate life more? How would we walk through the day if we thought Jesus might just pop in and surprise us with his presence?
Larry Stoess is an author, public speaker, and urban church planter. He loves telling stories about how dreaming with God will empower people to make old and broken things new again. Larry and a band of friends founded the Church of the Promise in Louisville's Portland neighborhood; The Table, a pay-what-you-can community café; and Promise Housing Plus, a non-profit construction company. He has written about their experience of dreaming with God in his new book: Think Red.