As I write, tensions in the Middle East flare again. This time Iran and the US rattle their swords. Oil tankers have been bombed and today a US drone has been shot down.
War and international conflict seem to be a constant. World leaders and their countries continuously jockey for power. In many nations smaller groups of insurgents rain down terror seeking to gain ascendency for their own purposes. The news headlines and leading stories lure our attention toward those of celebrity, position, and power who seem to demand our enduring devotion. In the midst of this, I am reminded of Jesus’s words to Pilate before his crucifixion, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting…but my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). He didn’t mean that his Kingdom was in some far-off realm; after all, in his incarnation he was inaugurating his Kingdom. He meant that his Kingdom was not of the same stuff, the same substance, the same mentality, the same values that fill the hearts of men. His Kingdom was an upside-down Kingdom, and as the King of this Kingdom his coronation was his crucifixion.
The Kingdom of heaven is like leaven…
While the rulers and powers of this age are forever raging against one another, maneuvering for power and prestige, “the kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33). The Kingdom of Jesus begins small; it is unnoticed, but quietly, under the radar, works its way through until it leavens the whole loaf. While the eyes of most are fixated upon the seemingly great and powerful of this present age, the Kingdom of Jesus is spreading and transforming people in its wake. The Kingdom that matters most (for it is an everlasting Kingdom) is the one least noticed by those who think they matter most. It is not of this world.
Leaven in the Middle East...
My wife and I had the privilege to travel to the Middle East during our sabbatical to observe and learn of some of the work taking place there. While in Kurdistan, Iraq we met a young man—a Syrian Kurd. He had lost many family members who were either killed or who disappeared during the war with ISIS and the ongoing civil war. He and his wife fled to a refugee camp in Turkey with little food and with the ever-present danger of mines buried along the way. They stayed for one month in this camp before finding their way to Erbil, Iraq.
A pastor in Erbil allowed him and his wife to stay at the church. While staying there he met some missionaries and heard about Jesus. All his life he had been told that if he were to doubt the Quran he would go to hell. But he began to read the Bible and ask the pastor questions. By means of this process, he and his wife were taught about Jesus. One night, the young man’s wife had a dream about Jesus. In her dream, she asked Jesus, “Why not reveal yourself to my husband too?” Three days later the young man had a dream about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Both he and his wife had light flood into their lives and were transformed. As he related it, “A ton of burden was lifted from us that we had been carrying around.”
This young man worked with a group of people in Mosul, Iraq that helped rescue injured people from the battle against ISIS. He helped save a man and child who were under attack. After this incident, God spoke to him and he was no longer afraid. He proceeded to rescue and carry another 400 bodies to safety.
He now works alongside the team we were visiting as a translator and fellow worker. This is one small example of the leaven of the Kingdom of God at work.
An unspeakable power...
Michael Card has a song on his album, Mark: the beginning of the gospel, that reflects on the story of Jesus calming the storm. Card depicts the storm on the sea of Galilee as a storm stirred up by demonic rage in an effort to thwart Jesus’s arrival and confrontation with the forces of darkness that awaited him on the other side. The disciples feared for their lives, but when Jesus spoke and calmed the storm with a word, another kind of fear gripped them. The chorus of the song goes like this,
A great wind, a great calm, a great fear
An unspeakable power is here
Far beyond the darkness and the waves
There is a very real reason to be afraid
The kingdom of darkness is real and its power is fearsome. As people, we are mostly afraid of what this kingdom can do and the horror it can inflict. But there is a greater, unspeakable power that rarely seems to create fear. Jesus calms the storm, he heals the sick, he casts out the demons of destruction, he provides for the grateful and ungrateful alike, and he forgives sin, transforms lives, and gives the gift of life that never ends. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and every knee will bow to his name. Jesus said,
… do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows (Luke 12:4–7).
An unspeakable power.
Fear, but do not fear.
His Kingdom is not of this world.
Paul writes, Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:2).
To set our minds on things above, we may have to look below—to peer underneath the surface of things to where God is at work. On the surface, would anyone ever think that the fastest growing Church (meaning body of Christ) is in Iran or the second fastest is in Afghanistan? I was not aware.
Our interaction with workers in this region of the Middle East taught me again not to be overly impressed (or disturbed) by what makes the news headlines. Rather, an unspeakable power is here. This is where our attention is to be fixed. He is invading dreams, he is healing, he is showing up in visions, and he is speaking his word directly to people and thus drawing them to himself.
As leaven in a loaf, God is permeating the kingdom of darkness and transferring people into the Kingdom of his beloved Son—in large numbers, in the most unlikely places.
Let’s set our minds on things above by looking below. That's where the action is.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim Bloom has served with Innerchange for the past 25 years as the Minneapolis Team Director and as the U.S. Regional Director from 2011–2018. He is married to Raquel and they have two children.