We often think of the Kingdom of God as a nation. How often do we think of the Kingdom as a home, as a family? Yet God has always desired to tabernacle in and among us, and He desires to welcome all and sundry into His family.. Jesus in John 14 describes how He will not leave a stranded and alone as orphans (vs. 18), but rather invites us into His love and into His home. The work of the Kingdom is the work of becoming a household together.
In the previous post about Kingdom work, we explored the themes of salvation and sojourning. In this installment, we will look at simplicity, Sabbath, and safety. Future posts to look for will be on the work of shepherding and the wisdom of servanthood.
- She Has Done a Beautiful Thing: Kingdom Womanhood as Declaration
- Kingdom Womanhood: Making Home and Haven Part 1
- Kingdom Womanhood: Making Home and Haven Part 2
The thought of “Kingdom work” and “ministry” may sound intimidating. Really, however, it is as simple as living and loving where God has placed us. Perhaps the stories of real-life women who are doing such work may be both helpful and inspiring.
This picture is not something you would put in a glossy magazine, but somehow this picture reminds me of a meal Jesus could have shared with his friends in humble surroundings.
During COVID-19 lockdowns, my friend Stacey-Jean and her large family were living in the Philippines. Despite being confined to their home, they kept coming across neighbors in need, neighbors who had lost their jobs. Rather than merely barricading themselves in and looking out only for themselves, they cast their “deep and wide” and managed to make friends and be a positive part of the community they lived in, all the while being respectful of the laws and precautions the Filipino government put into place. When God opens our eyes, ears, heart, and hands to the work that He is doing, tapping into that work often is an extension of the life we are living, of the home we are already building.
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart. (Acts 2:46)
One of the very first things that the first church in Jerusalem did was simply eat together. They realized that many among them did not have food to eat, so they shared their food.
For followers of Jesus, simplicity is not just an aesthetic or a lifestyle choice, nor it is an ascetic choice to exercise self-denial. Rather, it is a statement about the Kingdom in contrast with the way of Empire. Empire is about theft, lust, accumulation. It is about the pursuit of personal gain in order to become greater and better than others. It involves setting yourself apart and above and it thrives by means of exclusion. The Kingdom of God, on the other hand, thrives by means of inclusion.
- those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them (1 Corinthians 7:30b-31)
- And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29)
- Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-20).
- Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide yourselves with purses that will not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. (Luke 12:33)
- But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (1 Timothy 6:8)
What we see across the New Testament is an overall picture, a gist and zeitgeist of Kingdom simplicity. We also see in the early church helpful examples of people who lived and inhabited many places and spaces in the Roman world, but set aside the values of the world around them that would drive them to conquer and build their own domains, legacy, and heritage. They did not have rigid rules about needing to, for example, sell your property in order to be saved. They didn’t reduce the Kingdom down to a to-do list of requirements of entry. They didn’t condemn the possession of land or gold. Rather, they used what they had, rich and poor, to serve one another and invest in communities of the Kingdom. Simplicity was primarily about where their heart was, and what they pursued and invested in: one another.
Family-kinship alliance in the world of early Christianity was like a lifeline for its members, especially in times of hardship when the family was called for to provide not only material-based, but also sociopolitical and spiritual supports to its members. Therefore, those who were left to total self-reliance for survival without familial (or patron) supports were the most vulnerable social minorities, since they were devoid of the most rudimentary in-group protection and care necessary for basic subsistence in a collectivistic culture. (Berg, 2020)
The early church formed “family-kinship” networks spanning the entire known world. This is something that Christians still do today and indeed should do!
Recently, I moved halfway across the globe. The first person to meet me at the airport, having driven all of two hours and waited several more, was Becky (pictured on the left). We had never met in real life. We had never even been on a phone call! But she was just the friend I needed in a bewildering mass of new experiences in a foreign land.
Sometimes God works through us in random ways: a reminder to give a friend a phone call who needed someone to talk to, coming across the perfect gift for a friend who needed encouragement at a library fundraiser. These promptings in our heart, no matter how mundane or small they may seem, become opportunities to build community and love one another.
Aristotle (Pol. 1.13 1260a10-14) described slaves, women, and children as deficient and lacking complete souls (and thus humanity). Early Christians, on the other hand, became distinct because they took seriously Peter’s instruction to “honor all”. You would think that the way to combat inequality would be to dishonor those who unrighteously exalted themselves, but the Apostle Peter’s instruction was to deliberately honor and respect rulers, while at the same time honoring those whom society deemed dishonorable, even unworthy of life.
The catacombs are filled with very tiny graves with the epitaph “adopted daughter of…” or “adopted son of…” inscribed on them. These inscriptions refer to the many babies and young children Christians rescued from the trash over the centuries. Tertullian says Christians sought out the tiny bodies of newborn babies from the refuse and dung heaps and raised them as their own or tended to them before they died or gave them a decent burial. (Early Church History)
The Roman Empire was the household of Caesar and an empire of households. Sure, it looked resplendent and prosperous on the outside, but Jesus, in calling His disciples to the cross, called them to forsake and relinquish such pursuits. In dying on the cross, Jesus rejected the salvation, prosperity, and “peace” of Rome. From now on, we have a new mission and a new household. We seek not physical territories, a dynastic legacy and a physical inheritance, but a city built without human hands (Hebrews 11). Our work of Kingdom building does not build up the prosperity of the world, but instead, turns it upside-down.
Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:26)
Where we make our home with one another, we find abundance and joy in simplicity. We are content.
As followers of Jesus, home and hearth may look different for us. It means that we may have physical security taken away from us and that we make a home for one another in places of precarity. It may mean that we relinquish the idols on our altar, such as a desire to exclusively pursue our own individual good. Perhaps we may have to surrender our ideal and what is comfortable and perfect in order to invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” to our banquet-tables (Luke 14:13). The way of the cross may mean suffering with those who suffer, remembering those in prison and sending them help (Hebrews 13:3). It may mean hospitality in inhospitable circumstances.
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:9).
Someone recently asked me why Anabaptists are known for rejecting different forms of luxury and technology. Is it some form of asceticism, the belief that deprivation in this life and in material things means greater spirituality? That was something I had not thought about before, but that didn’t quite ring true with Anabaptist history. Historically, the Anabaptists largely became “plain” people not in pursuit of monasticism or pietism, but in a historical context of poverty.
Furthermore, another proper concern was discussed, namely, that the freedom the merchants exercise in running their businesses tends to increase temporal greed, and that the fashions of dress resemble more the ways of the world than they do the way of Christian humility. Since these sins can creep in unnoticed, and since it is to be feared that the same will bring damage to many souls, and since it is not easy to set exact standards in this regard-how much profit a merchant may earn and what a person is to wear-we still desire that everyone be content with a modest profit and with simple clothing: indeed, in every way, proving oneself to be a light to the world, neither following the fashions of the world, nor comparing self to those who are insatiable, forever wanting more and more. (Concept of Cologne, 1591)
One may be tempted to think that being a people of exile and simplicity means valorizing and idealizing hardship, as if the hardest road is the most spiritual road. That is, in fact, not the case. We are to carry our cross, but as we do so, we realize that Jesus is beckoning us into a place of great comfort and joy, of nourishment and wholeness and healing. We are exiles because we have found a state of greater belonging.
Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest (Hebrews 4:11a).
We must always remember that God does not demand that we continue to push and sacrifice ourselves when at the breaking point and exhausted. What is not healthy is not God-glorifying. We should never feel that we are not doing enough or sacrificing enough, that we constantly have to be working.
We must be careful not to bring hustle culture into the Kingdom. In contrast, “rest” and “shalom” are antithetical to a global culture of making use of and squeezing everything dry, allowing nothing to just sit and be. The trees of the forest can be as they are, and little children play as if they have not a care in the world… but we adults, on the other hand, tend to move with the times and feel the need to constantly rush rather than be still.
Much of what we have been taught about dedication and devotion to God is based on human performance, striving for achievement and a sense of self-righteousness. God does not break us in order to use that brokenness and woundedness to bless others. Rather, we bless others out of abundance, out of wholeness.
Tell yourself, “It is okay to be tired, broken, and needing to be ministered to.” We should never feel that we are not doing enough or sacrificing enough – the moment we think that, we have glorified scarcity as a spiritual state.
Christian women are constantly bombarded with the “spiritual” message that taking care of yourself is somehow less spiritual than emptying and negating yourself for others especially at the point of exhaustion and overload. Being told that this is glorious does not make it glorious. You are not going to experience some magical breakthrough if you push past your limits while drowning out the pain through hyper-spiritual language, stuffing down emotions with worship songs. This is not the way of the Good Shepherd, and we will never create havens for one another until we are abiding in His goodness.
If we are to bring Jesus’s healing, we must minister from a place of being healed.
If we are to bring Jesus’s shalom, we must minister from a place of rest.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 6:4)
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 6:7)
The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:9)
Jesus cried over Jerusalem, “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matthew 23:37). The Kingdom Jesus brings us into is a place of sacred safety, and one way that we manifest our love for Him is by recognizing just how sacred this place of safety is. We must do all we can to protect one another, especially those who are considered the “least” among us, those who are vulnerable, and those in need of healing.
The women who have encouraged me the most, in recent years, who have revitalized my faith and passion, are the women who have Jesus’s heart for the unseen and unheard, the “difficult”, the ones we would rather ignore. Many of these friends of mine are survivors, women who were wounded themselves but who have come to a place of tremendous strength and overflowing love. One of them, Hope Anne, said the following:
I have never forgotten one time when I was driving to town. I was praying and crying and I finally said, “God, it hurts so much.” And he told me something I have never forgotten. He said, “But I promise you, if you let your heart be broken for what breaks mine, you can know that I will comfort you.” And I have never ever forgotten that. Because it is true, and the only way I can do this work is because of the comfort God gives me.
There is something incredible in a person whose heart resembles Christ the Shepherd. May we as Kingdom women be havens of safety. This could be safety for someone going through grief and loss, this could mean safety for someone healing from abuse. This could be literal and physical safety, a shelter from the storm, or it could be the safety of being seen, heard, listened to.
Sadly, churches are not always places of refuge and healing. I have had so many friends say, in weariness and brokenness, that church is a place of pain. Going to a service requires so much effort, it is emotionally draining. It is a place where blows are inflicted on wounds, both through words and sermons and through callous interactions. It is a place where many feel rejection, are shamed. When this happens, we need to seriously examine why, as a body, we do not resemble our Head. Jesus is a refuge, a place for the weary to find rest unto their souls.
Clara lives in the Carribean. Seeing brokenness and violence in the lives of children and women, she built a house and create a space of refuge for young women in need. When she sent me this picture, I was blown away by the transformation. She had put an incredible amount of work into building and furnishing not only a functional but a beautiful home.
I believe there is still a place for the church in the world because there is so much brokenness, and the needs are far too great. No, Christians are not the only ones doing good work – the story of the Roman centurion Cornelius, whose generosity did not go unnoticed by God, comes to mind. However, I believe we can make a tremendous impact by being part of God’s good and beautiful work.
Christ holds us close. He binds up our wounds. He protects us from wolves. May we cultivate and nurture our communities to be safe places, not for wolves but for sheep. Sometimes, this may require saying difficult things and taking difficult stances. It may mean facing scorn and derision even from those who are seen as our brothers and sisters. We may feel compelled to be silent, or to join with a majority who want to dismiss and shame someone who comes forward about abuse. BUT,
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)
No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds. (1 Timothy 5:9-10)
In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. (Acts 9:32-39)
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. (Romans 16:1-4)
Every act of love in the body of Christ, every foot washed, and every time we open our hearts and home in hospitality, we put to shame the wisdom and strength of this world by declaring the power and glory of God.
We have an incredible, supernatural, humanly impossible work to do as a church and as Kingdom women: to create a haven of light in a world of darkness, to draw a line that Empire does not cross. Yet, when we look at the examples of women in the early church who were indispensable in the work of building up the body of Christ, we see that they were not commended for “great” things from the world’s point of view, exceptional exploits deserving of commendation in the annals of history. But their stories remain with us!
… and the stories continue!
Here are some podcast interviews Kingdom women doing Kingdom work that you might enjoy:
- Marcia Zimmerman, “Visiting the Fatherless in Their Distress”
- Hope Ann Dueck, “Sexual Abuse and Jesus’s Kingdom”. (A Better Way: Education and Support)
- Christy Smucker, “Caring for Moms in the Inner City” (The Mom Community)
- Rosanna Brubacker and Judy Croutch Beachy, “Churches and Domestic Violence“, “Abusive Propaganda“, “Submission, Oppression, and Freedom”. (LifeRing Christian Ministries)
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