Talk 3 of 6 at a Renovare conference on "Living in the Kingdom of God" by Dallas Willard. April 2003, Oak Hills Church, Folsom, California. Transcript by Ray Cowan, Nov. 30, 2008. Revised December 11, 2008. This is the first 30 minutes of an hour-long talk. This conference is available on CD from www.renovare.org. Editorial comments are in "[…]".
Thank you. Please be seated.
Well, good morning, and I hope you had a restful evening, and a time to do some thinking and praying about what we're dealing with in these hours that we have together. And if you'll take your notebook and turn to page nine, this is more-or-less where we will take up this morning.
Now this text that you have referred to here from Luke 12 is one of the beautiful and profound things that Jesus gave us. He says:
"Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap. They have no storeroom nor barn. And yet God feeds them. How much more valuable you are than the birds!"And this is undoubtedly said with some humor. I don't know if you've ever tried to price anyone in birds. But you might try that as an exercise. Maybe someone's worth two cockatoos, a crow and three sparrows, or something like that.
Jesus is referring here to the fact that God is in charge of the world. That he makes provision for every thing of its kind. And now he says:
"Which of you, by being anxious, can add a single cubit to his life's span? If you cannot do even a very little thing, why are you anxious about other matters? Look at the lilies, they grow; they don't toil, and they don't spin…"That is to say, they don't make their clothing, so the lilies don't toil, they don't make their clothing.
"…but I am telling you that Solomon, in his best outfit, did not clothe himself like one of these."Now you need to take time there to be reflective, and look at a tiny flower that grows wild in the fields, and ask yourself, "Who's in charge of that?" See, nature is a primary expression of the kingdom of God, and Jesus refers to that. So verse 29:
"Don't seek what you shall eat, what you shall drink. Do not keep worrying, for all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek, but your father knows that you need these things. But seek for his kingdom, and all of these things shall be added. Don't be afraid, little flock, for your father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom."God has chosen to give you the kingdom. You were made for this, and that's his choice, it's not your choice.
Now in the context of the teaching, he tells them:
"Sell your possessions, and give to charity. Make yourselves purses which will not wear out, an unfailing treasure in the heavens (plural) where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys, because where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."Ok, now this is a deep teaching about the kingdoms that are in this world. If you'll notice, the topic for today is "Kingdoms in Cooperation". So we need to be aware of the plurality of kingdoms. And we need to know that and respect it. And we need to understand that every individual person, and you in particular, were created with a kingdom in mind.
And I pause just to allow you to think about that. See, you have a kingdom in virtue of what you are. There's no such thing as a person without a kingdom. And of course, I'm saying "kingdom", but if you'd like, "queendom", you can use that. "Persondom". You have a persondom.
There's no such thing as a person without a realm over which they rule. God has made that sure for you. And now the intention is that you would come into the world, and back to the little child, the child by being here automatically has a domain of influence. And again, that's built-in to the situation. And you have to really have been corrupted not to be influenced by the presence of a baby. Just the presence of a baby. And of course when you're young and eager, you don't notice that, but grandparents really notice it, see. They know that; they feel. And what they really feel is the dynamic presence of that little baby. You know, just being there is enough. And that's intentional. That's God's view.
Now, as you grow, God's intention is that your kingdom should expand. So the rule is:
"Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that in due season, he would exalt you." [1 Peter 5:6]You know that language? You understand that that's talking about you? That it is God's intent that you should be exalted. Now, that only is a problem when someone is into exalting themselves. And that's why, the wording there that I've quoted, from 1 Peter, is "Submit yourself to the mighty hand of God." You're taking your kingdom, now, and you're bringing it into God's kingdom.
Now, you don't become passive. You don't say, "I am nothing, nothing." No, no, you were meant to be something, something. And God made you to be that way. And you should have a sense of the significance of your life. See, you were brought into this time, this place. You were brought into a family. You were brought into a culture, a language, a time in history. And you should be should be filled with the sense of the dignity that God has bestowed upon you as his creation. And understand that he wants his creativity to flow through you.
And that's what this life, and grace, and kingdom, that we talked about last night, I was trying to give you those three basic concepts and see how they come together. See, that's what that life means. Life in you that comes from being renewed by the birth from above. And that life is supposed to expand, and grow, and so now listen to what Jesus said:
"Let your light so shine before men (it's your light)…Let your light so shine before men that they would see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven. [Matthew 5:16]"Now what does that mean, "glorify your father in heaven"? It means that they will be thankful to God that you exist. They'll be thankful to God that you exist. So as you grow, and your kingdom grows in God's kingdom, people will be thankful to God. I don't want to wear George [Skramstaad] out, but see, when I watch and hear George, what he does with music, and we really just get a very limited aspect of it in the few moments we have together in a meeting like this…I love George, and I honor God.
Now suppose you are working in a corporation of some sort. And whatever it is you do, perhaps you oversee computers in the payroll department or something.
Now suppose you do that in such a way that people say "Thank God!". "Thank God!" That's what human community should be: is everyone in that community is supposed to be so living in the goodness and power of God that everyone else is constantly thankful for them, see.
And now then we can put that with Colossians 3:17 to kind of help us nail down the big thought for the moment before we get into the details. And you may recall that in Colossians 3:17 after a wonderful passage there, maybe we'll have some time to go into part of it, that Paul says, "Whatsoever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
"Whatever you do," now, how much does that leave out? Doesn't leave any out, does it? "Whatever you do…" Now, what does it mean to do it in the name of Jesus? It means to do it on his behalf, and from his resources. Do it on his behalf, and from his resources. See, he makes them available. Now this afternoon I want to talk about the Great Commission. You see, he stands, after his death, after his resurrection, he stands there as he gets ready to send his people out, and says:
"All power has been given to me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore…[Matt. 28:18–20]"Now see, when I, when I get up in the morning, and go out to work or whatever I am doing, then I should go in that spirit. All power has been given to him. Now go, to whatever it is I go to. And that is a great adventure, that I am set free, into. And now my life is a constant progression of finding more and more about the greatness of God, in union with my life.
And all the failures of my past, mine or others' in relationship to me, I simply set those aside, those are in God's hands. Whatever may have seemed to be a limitation in my family, or my body, or my education, or the opportunities that have or have not occurred to me as I've gone on through life, see I lay those down in God's hands.
And I take the thing I do today, and I say now, "Jesus said, don't be afraid, little flock." I'm glad he said little flock. It was a little flock! My goodness, compared to what they were going to do. He's got these twelve guys later on the hillside and says:
"Go to all the world and make disciples…"Well, God doesn't want us to be misled about who is making it happen. Now, you remember the story of Gideon in Judges 6 and 7? You remember how Gideon was going to go against the Amalekites? And the problem was, he had too many people. Had too many soldiers. And so they had to send waves of them home, until they got down to 300. This is an important lesson for us as most of us here are concerned about church and church life—and that's a wonderful thing—but we want to remember that our problem is never we don't have enough people. It's never that. If we have a problem, it's never that we don't have enough people. The problem is always with the quality of the people who are there.
And we raise that up, and things move. So Jesus said, "Where two or three of you are gathered"—now again, "in my name." That is to say, on my [Jesus] behalf, and with my resources—"…there I am in the midst." Remember that?
So now when you gather in his name and you're going to do the good that he has put you in the world to do, you have his resources. And that is the secret of "kingdoms in cooperation". Do you see the title of the talk? That's what I'm supposed to be talking about [audience laughter]: is kingdoms in cooperation. It's your kingdom, God's kingdom. Then, when you take your kingdom into God's kingdom, and your friend over here takes their kingdom into God's kingdom, then your kingdom and their kingdom are wonderfully together.
See, that's why, when we really enter into the community of Christ, then we never deal directly with another person. Never deal directly with another person. I always deal with them with Christ in the midst. Always. Never any other way. That means among other things, I never try to force people to do things.
And one of the great secrets of rest, and peace, and power in ministry is to stop trying to get people to do things. That's something we have to watch in our families. You see, if we think we're in charge, we will invariably try to get people to do things. If we think God is in charge, we will release them into his direction and care. And an ironic way of saying it is to say then they're really in trouble!
See, God wants us to release, 'cause he knows how to take care of them. See, that's God's kingdom. "'Vengeance is mine, I will repay', thus saith the Lord." [Rom 12:19] Thank God for that!
See, that's the secret of laying down "paying back". So we don't have to pay back. God pays back better than we do. He knows what he's doing.
And so, for example, you see this in the case of Jesus with Peter. You remember the case where Jesus is saying to Peter, "Now, you're going to deny…"; "Oh no, I'm not going to deny you". Now Jesus, "Oh yes, you will." And then he says something very interesting (this is Luke 22 [31–62], as I recall). He says, "Peter, Satan has really desired to sift you like wheat." Now what he's referring, you know, you sift grain: you get the rocks out, and the dirt out, and you just have the pure grain when you're done sifting.
That's what he's referring to. "Peter, Satan is really going to put you through the sieve." Now he says, "Nevertheless, I have prayed for you." I wonder if it strikes you as strange that he said, "I have prayed for you"? I want to give you that verse so that you can effectively think about it. That's Luke 22:32.
'Cause now this illustrates what I'm saying about how, when the kingdoms come together, then we deal with one another through God. And Jesus even did this. Now, if all that Jesus had wanted was to keep Peter from denying him, do you think he could have arranged that? Yeah, he could have. He could've arranged it. He could've just had an angel there to whack him on the head when he got ready to deny him, see? "Pfft…ow!"
But Jesus wanted something deeper, and so he says there, that "I have prayed for you." Now when we pray for people, what we're doing is, we're handling them through God. And you want to interpret praying here broadly. Speaking in other ways than we normally think with your eyes closed and your head bowed can be praying. To speak under God, to say something to someone, but not to trust your cleverness and your authority, and whatever you are, to make it happen. But to say it, release it to God, and allow God to make happen what he wants to happen.
See, that's acting in God's kingdom. It's very important, of course, to understand that. And Jesus released Peter. See, prayer is, prayer is a kind of causation. But it's through God. And each of us has been given a domain where we just act.
See, like if you have weeds in your flower bed, you should pull them, and not pray about them. That's because pulling weeds is something you can do, right? God can trust you with that. And, of course, if you let them grow long enough, you may need to pray over them. [audience laughter] So, that's a deep lesson too.
But for example, if you have a loved one who is dealing with employment issues, or family issues, probably you'd better not try to fix that, like you would pull the weeds in your garden. And that's because you're dealing with something that's too big for you. And the depth of the working that needs to go on is something that has to be done in, with God's kingdom. See, that's kingdoms in cooperation.
So it isn't just prayer, it's everything we do. Normally we would start with prayer, and an understanding of prayer is a good way to begin. And frankly we ought to be constantly bathing everything we do in prayer. Invoking God constantly into everything we do. Right.
But it also concerns our acting. So, for example, when we're acting, and when we're going about our daily business, see, go back to that verse, "Whatsoever you do, in word or deed…" [Col 3:17] Well, that's acting. But when you act, you want to act with God.
Some wonderful person was telling me yesterday about how they had learned to enter into apprenticeship [to Jesus] and this person was very independent and creative person and they were saying, "Well, I didn't know how to do this, so what I decided to do was just sort of pretend that Jesus was right by my side as I went through the day. And I would talk to him as I went about what I was doing." And that's a good way of doing it, see, because now you take all of your actions, and you recognize that you have a kingdom that's God's appointed place for you, and you want to take that with joy and with gratitude, and say, "Thank God! I'm alive, I have the abilities that I have."
Because, see, God creates creators. You are creators. That's the image of God in you is your creative will. It is your capacity to have dominion. You go back to Genesis 1, it says, "Let us make man in our image…"—and what's the next word?—"…and let him have dominion…" See, dominion is the image of God in you.
And that's a good thing. It's only bad when it's torn loose, and now you're going to run your kingdom on your own. And then the next thing you do, is you meet someone else who is doing the same thing, and you're already in trouble. And that's why God had to take the reins of creation out of the hand of Adam and Eve to begin with, after they fell, because otherwise, you know, they would use the power of creation against one another.
That's what we do, isn't it? That's the meaning, one of the meanings of scientific progress and technological change is increasing power in the hands of human beings. Now that would be ok if these human beings were themselves fully, intelligently, lovingly in subjection to the kingdom of God. But when that is not true, then people use the knowledge of creation to hurt one another to secure themselves.
So, a major part of the meaning of human history is the progressive understanding of how to use the powers that are in creation. But you see, human beings want to use that for their own kingdoms. And now that's the secret of Babel. [Genesis 11:1-9] And that's the meaning of Babel for today: is for human beings to take charge of creation. And the limitation that is placed upon that by God in history is to divide human beings so that they will restrict one another and limit one another until the time comes when Christ makes a kingdom in which they can all rest. Right? And that's what's happening in human history.
Now you're a part of that, you see, because there was a time when you were born. And at that point God said—here's Joel here: Joel, when were you born? 1977. In 1977, God said, "Now it's Joel's turn." Now, I want you to take a moment now, just very quietly, to think about you in that context. Sometimes that's… sometimes the past is very tender. And perhaps there's a lot of hurt in your family. And you're not, maybe you're not, able to go back, and, in your mind, think that time when God said, "Now, it's your turn." You see.
And God has prepared a kingdom for you from the foundation of the world. That is, before there was a world, God had you in mind. I hope, see, I'm hoping that as think these things and going back to Jim's [James Bryan Smith] talk last night, you're going to understand the dignity of the kingdom that God has given you. And that you're going to begin to think, "Well, there's more to life than not being wrong." That there is a great world, and there is a great God, and his kingdom is all around. And you're a part of that in nature, and now your opportunity is to come alive in spirit to God and his kingdom, and live in that kingdom now, and go forward into eternity as a part of his kingdom.
Again, "Fear not, little flock." See, some of us, as I say, really do have issues with our background. And so perhaps we came into the world and it wasn't a good situation, and we've had to defend ourselves, and perhaps the way we looked, or the way we were treated as children, and so on, has made us obsessed with what the Bible calls "flesh". That is, our natural abilities. And you see some things here on page 9 [of the conference handout] about this. Flesh. Flesh is, flesh is the unaided human abilities. It's, it's what you can do on your own.
See, flesh is not bad. Flesh is good. And, indeed in this matter of what we're going to trust, what we have to be wary of above all, is "nice" flesh. Nice flesh. "Qualified" flesh. Human abilities that are good. Really being smart. Being good-looking. Having good, natural health and strength. See, the problem, the problem is not just the bad stuff. Paul goes over this in Philippians 3 if you remember. He talks about what he was after the flesh. And he lists his birth (the tribe of Benjamin). He lists his education—he had one of the best for his day. I mean, what he went to was like going to Harvard, or Jim here going to Yale. No, the best schools: Berkeley, Stanford, the ones that are on the top. Paul had that.
(End of first 30 minutes of this talk. The second half of the talk is also available.)