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A PENETRATING QUESTION

by Mike Robinson

It was a cold morning as I sat in the restaurant waiting for my dining companion to arrive. I can't say that we knew each other well but I had certainly benefited from his ministry. He was a fellow pastor but it had been 8 or 9 years since I had last seen him. I was feeling awkward. How would I greet him? What would I say? Should I ask him about "it" or just leave that initiative up to him?

Why these questions? Because so much had happened to him in those intervening years since we last had contact. Not too long after that last meeting those many years ago the news broke that he had been involved in a sexual affair with his church secretary. The publicity surrounding the affair was extensive. And I had not seen him since then. Not that I had avoided him or abandoned him in light of that exposure. It was just that there had been no opportunity to reach out.

In the midst of my mental meandering, suddenly there he was, coming through the door. My immediate reaction was one of relief in that he smiled as we greeted each other warmly - and genuinely. But my second reaction (which I think I effectively concealed) was one of sadness. To be honest, he looked terrible. In those years following his ignominious departure from pastoral ministry, he had re-married and that second marriage had failed. He was now living on his own. Lonely. So much that could have still flowed from his ministry was neutralised by his previous choices.

As we talked and reconnected, another part of my brain was thinking, "What an incredible price you have paid for your choices and decisions". If there was ever any doubt in my mind that sin exacts a punishing price it disappeared in that defining moment.

Yet, in the midst of the sadness I was feeling and, hopefully, concealing, I became aware of something very positive. This man in front of me still had a heart for God and a heart for the Church. His public ministry may have been paralysed by his sin but his heart still hungered after God and he had a passion for the welfare of the Church.

It was in that setting that he asked the penetrating question. A question that made that breakfast appointment something of a defining moment for me. The question he asked was part of a conversation that went something like this:

"You know Mike, there is a lot of talk in the Church these days about spiritual gifts and people finding their ministry by identifying those gifts and abilities that God has given them. Now I believe in spiritual gifts. But I think we are asking the wrong question when we ask them to define or identify their gifts. It's the wrong question. The question we should be asking them is, 'What is your Kingdom passion?'"

I'm not sure what happened after that, conversationally speaking. I do know that I came away from that breakfast meeting feeling saddened on the one hand (what an incredible mess he had made of his life and ministry) yet, on the other hand, I was both excited by his continuing heart for God and His Church and challenged by that penetrating question.

What is your Kingdom passion? It's a question directed to the heart more than to the head.

I am asking that question of our people in our Church on a regular basis. I told them I would be asking that question wherever I met them. After a while, some of them might even cross to the other side of the street to avoid me because they would know what was coming!

However, I have had to unpack the dynamics of that question so that I know we are talking about the same realities.For example, how do our people understand the expression "the Kingdom of God"? The cosmic history of our world is that of two kingdoms in conflict - the kingdom of light, truth and life in conflict with the kingdom of darkness, falsehood and death.

"Kingdom" is the sovereign rule and authority of God. It is the will of God prevailing in the lives of individuals, in churches and in the world. When Jesus taught us to pray, He directed that we pray, "..your kingdom come�" and in the very next phrase He defines the kingdom: "..your will be done on earth as it is in heaven". Wherever the will of God is done, there is the Kingdom of God.

"Passion" relates to the focus of my anticipation when it comes to kingdom issues. I looked up my clever computer dictionary and it came up with the following insights. Passion (fervour, ardour, enthusiasm, zeal) - an intense emotion compelling action. Passion applies to an emotion that is deeply stirring. Fervour implies a warm and steady emotion. Ardour suggests a warm and excited feeling. Enthusiasm applies to lively or eager interest in or admiration for a proposal, cause, or activity. Zeal implies energetic and unflagging pursuit of an aim or devotion to a cause. When the words "kingdom" and "passion" are linked, the dynamics are exciting!

Such was the impact of that simple question into my own heart that it has infiltrated my preaching over the last few months. I thought I might preach 2 or 3 times on this theme. But I am (at the time of writing) up to 7 or 8 messages that I have shared with our folk. The response has been heartening, to say the least.

What is your Kingdom passion? It's one of those questions that has the capacity for finding its way into our hearts. And when it does, it won't let go.

So, let me ask you, what is your Kingdom passion? Is it in any way aligned with what you are currently doing in the Kingdom? Or does your Kingdom passion remain largely unfulfilled and frustrated? There can only be a few things more debilitating than having an unfulfilled Kingdom passion�.and I can't think of any right at the moment!

In terms of chronology, I'm probably at the latter end of my ministry life. Some time back I found myself mulling over questions about retirement and associated themes. Thoughts like, "The best years of ministry are now behind me" began to have a subtle but debilitating effect on my passion for ministry. Then one day in an unspectacular way the Spirit of God whispered into my spirit, "Most years of pastoral ministry may be behind you, but the best ones can still be ahead". Another defining moment! That realisation generated a commitment within me to do all I could to stay on a cutting edge of growth. The key to having a Kingdom passion is to have a passion for the King. So, where can we turn to experience passion for the King? I found myself turning to the Psalms.

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27/4


Here is the passion of the "one thing" - to passionately pursue the presence and beauty of the Lord.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? - Psalm 42/1,2


That's passion in full flight

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  - Psalm 63/1


Matthew 26/38,39 - Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

"�.not as I will, but as you will."
There's the Kingdom! Right there! Jesus praying as He taught His disciples to pray; "..your will be done�"

Matthew 6/33 - But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Some would call this the priority of the Kingdom. I agree. But the Kingdom will only be a priority when it becomes a passion.To those readers who consider themselves involved in Christian ministry, let me say that I don't know where you are on the time line when it comes to pastoral ministry - just beginning or coming to a close or somewhere in between. Wherever you are, the question of Kingdom passion is not only relevant but crucial. It's crucial because it has more to do with our relationship to the King than our work for the King.How can one identify a Kingdom passion? I've suggested to our folk that we ask ourselves some key questions in this regard.

[1] What is my area of concern or burden? [2] What is it that I find myself most criticising about the church - its people and its ministry? (NB: sometimes my area of criticism can be my passion breaking through. That's worth thinking about so far as some of your critics in the church are concerned).[3] What is my area of personal desire for ministry? (It may not be what I am currently doing!)[4] What affirmation do I receive most often from others?[5] What excites me regarding Kingdom ministry and generates anticipation within my heart?[6] What area of ministry do I personally believe is indispensable to the success of the Kingdom?

It needs to be said that passion - including Kingdom passion - cannot run at full throttle all the time. That would not lead to burnout but more likely to blow up! But whether it is intense or steady, we need a Kingdom passion. The question I have to ask myself is, "How do I cultivate and nurture my Kingdom passion?"The Apostle Paul was a man with such a passion. In Philippians 3/1-14, he outlines His passion for the King and the Kingdom. In vs.13,14 he gives us an insight into how he maintains his passion.

First, he is committed to be focussed.

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I d (v.13)

This is what I like to call the "power of the one thing". As we noted earlier, it was at the heart of David's cry in Psalm 27/4 - One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

It was at the heart of Mary's focus on the Lord when she sat at the feet of Jesus as recorded in Luke 10:41,42 - "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." The "power of the one thing".

Then Paul describes his attitude to the past: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, (v.13)

So many of us are imprisoned by our past. Past failures. Past regrets. Even past successes can hinder us from moving into God's future for us. Such memories will rob us of passion in the present more than any other one thing. Paul is determined that he will not be the prisoner of his past.I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (v.14)The future is rich in it's promise, potential and possibilities. Paul was passionate about his future in God. If I remember correctly, this letter to the Philippians was written towards the end of his ministry life. And his passion was unabated.May his tribe increase!And may you and I be part of that tribe.
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