Some months ago I was late to catch a plane out of the San Antonio airport. I wasn’t terribly late, but I was late enough to be bumped and have my seat given to a stand-by passenger.

When the ticket agent told me that I would have to miss the flight, I put to work my best persuasive powers.

“But the flight hasn’t left yet.”

“Yes, but you got here too late.”

“I got here before the plane left; is that too late?”

“The regulation says you must arrive ten minutes before the flight is scheduled to depart. That was two minutes ago.”

“But, ma’am,” I pleaded, “I’ve got to be in Houston by this evening.”

She was patient but firm. “I’m sorry, sir, but the rules say passengers must be at the gate ten minutes before scheduled departure time.”

“I know what the rules say,” I explained. “But I’m not asking for justice; I’m asking for mercy.”

She didn’t give it to me.

But God does. Even though by the “book” I’m guilty, by God’s love I get another chance. Even though by the law I’m indicted, by mercy I’m given a fresh start.

“For it is by grace you have been saved…not by works, so that no one can boast.”6

No other world religion offers such a message. All other demand the right performance, the right sacrifice, the right chant, the right ritual, the right séance or experience. Theirs is a kingdom of trade-offs and barterdom. You do this, and God will give you that.

The result? Either arrogance or fear. Arrogance if you think you’ve achieved it, fear if you think you haven’t.

Christ’s kingdom is just the opposite. It is a kingdom for the poor. A kingdom where membership is granted, not purchased. You are placed into God’s kingdom. You are “adopted.” And this occurs not when you do enough, but when you admit you can’t do enough. You don’t earn it; you simply accept it. As a result, you serve, not out of arrogance or fear, but out of gratitude.

I recently read a story of a woman who for years was married to a harsh husband. Each day he would leave her a list of chores to complete before he returned at the end of the day. “Clean the yard. Stack the firewood. Wash the windows….”

If she didn’t complete the tasks, she would be greeted with his explosive anger. But even if she did complete the list, he was never satisfied; he would always find inadequacies in her work.

After several years, the husband passed away. Some time later she remarried, this time to a man who lavished her with tenderness and adoration.

One day, while going through a box of old papers, the wife discovered one of her first husband’s lists. And as she read the sheet, a realization caused a tear of joy to splash on the paper.

“I’m still doing all these things, and no one has to tell me. I do it because I love him.”

That is the unique characteristic of the new kingdom. Its subjects don’t work in order to go to heaven; they work because they are going to heaven. Arrogance and fear are replaced with gratitude and joy!

You’re in Bethany. The home of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. Peer through the window…what do you see?

There’s Martha, sleeves rolled up and ready to serve, an Energizer® bunny—reliable, hardworking Martha.

Over there is Mary. On her knees. While Martha serves with her hands, Mary lifts her hands in praise and prayer. For she loves to worship, she lives to pray.

And Lazarus? He’s talking about Jesus. He’s sharing his pinch-me-I’m-dreaming testimony. “Because of Lazarus many of the Jews were…believing in Jesus” (John 12:11).

Marthas who serve, Marys who pray, and Lazaruses who testify—all seated at the table together. In God’s house, each one plays a different role. But each one is needed.

The one who worships
the one who proclaims
the one who serves
the one who worships.

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