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Showing posts with label Kingdom of God. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kingdom of God. Show all posts

Monday, August 5, 2019

Transformers, The Spiritual Gifts

When I was a kid, one of my favorite toys/shows was The Transformers.  It was a cartoon about alien robots that came to earth who could transform from robots into a cars, jets, construction equipment, even dinosaurs.  The Autobots were the good guys who fought against the evil Decepticons who were trying to steal the earth's energy resources.  Each individual robot had special powers and characteristics that made them an important asset to the team.  Plus, the individual robots could combine together into a super robot.  It was a cool show, at least for a 8-year-old boy!  Click here to see a trailer for the 80s TV series cartoon!

I was thinking about the transformers a few months ago and meditating on how the Holy Spirit of God transforms us.  Because of what Christ did for us on the cross, Christians are transformed. We’re not robots, but the Holy Spirit transforms us from our old sinful ways into new creations, with a new nature and new power to serve God.  Part of that transformation is receiving special abilities and powers to serve God and make a difference in this world.  We call these special abilities spiritual gifts.  The Apostle Paul teaches about them in the Bible.

Romans 12:6-8
In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

Lists of Spiritual Gifts
The spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit.  We are born with some of our talents.  However, the Holy Spirit can enhance a talent you already have so that it becomes a great asset to the Kingdom of God.  The Holy Spirit can even bless you with a talent you’ve never ever had before.  Maybe you were not born a natural leader or with a great singing voice or the ability to read and understand and tech Scripture.  However, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God can enable you to do these things and many others.  It is a gift from God through the Holy Spirit to all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord.

The Bible offers several different lists of Spiritual Gifts. Romans 12:6-8 lists seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Ephesians 4:11 lists five.  1 Corinthians 12:8-10 lists nine.  1 Corinthians 12:28-30 (the same chapter) list 8.  The Apostle Paul offered each of these lists.. The fact Paul gives numerous lists with differing gifts is a clue that the specific number and types of gifts is not important. Here's what's really important that we need to know.

First of all, no gift is better than any other; and no person is better than another.  When talking about spiritual gifts, the Apostle Paul reminds the Church that we are a body.  Some people are hands and some people are feet and some people are eyes, etc.  In order for the body to function properly, it takes all the parts working properly.  1 Corinthians 12:21, “The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”  We are all essential to the body and we ought to appreciate everyone for the vital roles they play in the work of the Church.

Second, there is a division of labor in the Church.  No one person is supposed to do all the work.  The Holy Spirit intentionally equips different people with different gifts so that we all have to work together to accomplish the mission of the Church.  If the hand keeps trying to be an eye, the Church will be blind and have no vision.  If the feet keep trying to be hands, we will stumble and fall.  In order for the Church to be most effective, all the different parts need to do what God called them to do.

Third, the gifts of the Spirit are not for individual advancement. They build up the whole Church.  Perhaps Holy Spirit gave you the special gift of a great singing voice.  Then, you should use that gift for the glory of God, not your own glory.  You should use the gift of music to build up the Church and accomplish God’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Did the Holy Spirit give you the gift of preaching or teaching or fixing things or healing or administration?  Whatever gift the Holy Spirit gave you, He gave it so you could use it for the Kingdom of God, not your own selfish benefit.  The Spiritual Gifts are for completing the work of the Kingdom.

Fourth, The Holy Spirit Lives Inside All Believers.  When you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside you.  Spiritual gifts are evidence of God’s grace working through our lives to benefit others. Our gifts are not for us. God intends us to use them for the good of His church. My gift is for you. Your gift is for me.  But the gifts are evidence of the supernatural power of the God of the universe working in our life.  They are an assurance that we truly are God's children destined for eternal life.

Now, there is something else I need to say here.  If Jesus is not your Lord and Savior, you don’t have the Holy Spirit.  You are not all you can be, all that God wants you to be.  You lack the power of God’s Holy Spirit in Your life.  If you’ve never decided to surrender to God, repent of your sins, and follow Jesus as your Lord, you have not received God’s forgiveness.  You have not yet received the gift of eternal life.  And you have not been filled with the Holy Spirit.  If that describes you, I pray you will make a decision to follow Jesus as your Lord today.  Then, He will save you and God will fill you with the power of the Holy Spirit.  And you will receive a gift from the Holy Spirit to help you serve in God’s Church.

Over the next several weeks, we will look at the seven gifts of the Spirit Paul lists in Romans 12:6-8.  My prayer is that through this, we will all find new insights into the way the Holy Spirit has equipped us to serve together.  I encourage you to take a spiritual gifts assessment to help discern how the Holy Spirit may have gifted you to serve in His Kingdom.  Here are a few you may try:

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Kingdom with a Mission

Those who follow Jesus Christ--who fall down before Him and worship Jesus as Lord and Savior--are God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood.  We are citizens and kings and queens in the Kingdom of God.  We live in this world, which is not our home, as royal ambassadors.  Often, we find we live in hostile territory, for the people and systems and attitudes and philosophies of this world are opposed to the Kingdom of God and His rightful rule.  So, Christians trust in Jesus and we endure the trials of this life, even as we live with the dignity and confidence of God’s royal family.  We trust what Jesus said.  Jesus promised He was coming back and when He comes, the Kingdom of God will come completely.  This world and all it’s brokenness will melt away and God will make Heaven and Earth perfect once again.  There will be no more sin or sorrow or suffering or death.

It’s a wonderful vision of hope.  We long for the Day.  Unfortunately, Christians sometimes grow so comfortable with the hope that Someday Jesus will come and fix all the brokeness around us that we forget we have a job to do while we are here.  “Someday,” we think, “God will make all things right.  Someday, we will go to heaven.  Someday, we will sit on thrones and rule in the Kingdom of God.”

But Jesus gave us a mission to accomplish today.  We are not to stand idly by waiting for Someday to come.  In fact, Jesus had harsh words for all those who do nothing during the wait.  We are on a mission to spread the Kingdom of God all around us.  This is not optional.  It is what true followers of the King do.  It is how we live.

Jesus’ Disciples wanted to know when the world as we know it would come to an end and the Kingdom of God would be fully realized.  They wanted to know how they would know it was coming (Matthew 24:3).  Jesus gave them some clues. He said fear mongering, devastating wars, religious imposters, and natural disasters would all precede His return to usher in the full Kingdom of God.  He warned sin and persecution would be rampant in the world.  We already see some of these these signs in the world around us:  hurricanes and wildfires, political leaders and media outlets telling blatant lies, the Bible being scorned and forgotten, pastors caught up in scandals, and heresy being taught in the church.  

But Jesus also said in Matthew 24:14, “The Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”

So the faithful have important work to do.  The signs of the times ought not to dissuades us from our important work.  To the contrary, it should make us more determine.  Our mission is urgent.  We don’t know how much time we have left--years, days, or hours?  But this we do know:  Jesus is coming again and we are closer now to Jesus second coming than we ever were before.

People need to be careful.  So many people--especially “good people” (and this includes a lot of people who go to church) have the mindset that everything is just going to be ok in the end.  That feeling of false-security makes so many complacent and lazy.  For if you feel like you don’t have to do anything but sit back and wait, then you’ll forget about God’s Kingdom and His mission.

Jesus warned His Disciples (and us) about that very danger.  And that’s the subject of my message today.  As a king in the royal priesthood of God, I share three warnings Jesus gave for everyone waiting for his return.  The warnings are found in three parables Jesus taught in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew about what His followers should do while they wait for His return.  These are some of the last lessons Jesus taught before he was arrested and crucified. 

Read Matthew 25
Parable 1 - The Parable of the Ten Virgins - Matthew 25:1-13 
Parale 2 - The Parable of the Three Servants and the Master's Silver - Matthew 25:14-30
Parable 3 - The Parable of the Sheep and Goats - Matthew 25:31-46
The overall theme of all three parables is this:  Jesus is coming, but no one knows when.  Therefore, we can’t waste any time.  We need to get ready and stay ready, because we don’t know the day or the hour He will return.  You can’t wait until the last minute to get ready.  You must use all the time you have to prepare for the coming of the King.

Jesus’ First Warning - Make Sure You Spirit is Ready.  (The Parable of the Ten Virgins - Matthew 25:1-13)
In order to be ready spiritually, you need to have the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  I preached a whole sermon series on these recently.  You can read them on my blog or watch videos of the sermons on my church’s Facebook page.  

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  These are the virtues the Holy Spirit wants to grow in us.  Now, you can’t grow these yourself.  They are a product of the Holy Spirit.  They grow in us as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit.  We can’t make them grow, but we can create in our hearts an environment that nurtures their growth.  

Growing the Fruit of the Spirit takes time.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  That’s why it’s imperative that you don’t wait.  You need to start now!  Jesus said it’s urgent, because you don’t know when He might return.  We you be ready?  Will you have enough oil for your lamp?  You see, you can’t borrow it from anyone else.  

Our mission then (besides making sure we have “oil in our own lamps”) is to make encourage our friends, our family, our neighbors, everyone to open their hearts to the Holy Spirit too that He might grow in their lives love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  We can’t give them these virtues, but God can and He will if they will turn from their sins and turn to Jesus Christ.  We must urge them to, because the Kingdom of God is near!

Jesus’ Second Warning - Make Sure You Invest Your Resources in the Kingdom
(The Parable of the Three Servants and the Master’s Silver - Matthew 25:14-30)
The Kingdom of God has a mission.  We want everyone to repent of their rebellious sin and turn to God.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the rightful ruler of all.  We want everyone to willingly bow before our King and know the joy of His love.  This mission--to make disciples of Jesus Christ--is our number one priority.  It comes before everything else.

We are blessed with many different resources--time and money (of which there never seems to be enough), but also our talents and abilities (reference Last Wednesday’s talent show).  All these things are given to us by God and He expects us use them in the Kingdom’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  It doesn’t care how much you have.  Some have more ability than others, some more time, some more talent.  But we’ve all been given something to invest.

We won’t be judged on how well we did so much as whether we tried.  God knows our ability and our limitations.  He is not upset when we try and come up short.  What disappoints God most is when we are too afraid to try or (worse) too distracted by other things to invest ourselves fully in God’s Kingdom.  What will you do when you come face to face with the great King of kings and must reveal what you did with all He gave you in this life?  Will you say with trembling voice, “I was so afraid to use what you gave me so i buried it and kept it hidden away.”  Or worse, will you find you must confess with fearful tears in your eyes, “I wasted most of my life and most my time and most of my money and most of my talent chasing the fleeting things of this world instead of investing in the Kingdom’s noble goals.”  And where will all your trophies be then?  What will you have to show for all your striving.  Nothing.  And there you will stand, empty handed before the Lord of lords.  And what of your friends and neighbors, your family, and those you worked with?  What will you do when they testify against you, “She knew King and she never introduced me!  He saw me running towards destruction, and he never cried out to warn me!  They knew how to be saved and they never told me!”

Jesus’ Third Warning - Make Sure You Show Compassion to Those in Need.  (The Parable of the Sheep and Goats - Matthew 25:31-46)
God has been so patient and compassionate with us.  Jesus’ amazing grace saved us from our sins and restored us to a perfect relationship with our Creator God.  He brought many of us out of very miserable situations; some of us are still in the process of being rescued.  He makes us kings and queens in His royal priesthood when we trust Jesus.  It’s all too magnificent to believe!  We have so much to be thankful for this week!

We may be tempted to set back and just enjoy basking in the glory of it all—to spend all our time feasting in the Kingdom.  There are times for that.  Thanksgiving is a feast to celebrate all for which we are thankful.  Chief among all our blessing is the gracious gift of salvation is Jesus Christ .  And every Sunday is an occasion for us to come and worship—to sing praises to the God of our salvation, to join with our brothers and sisters in the royal family of God and glorify his name and lift up our hearts in joyous adoration.

However, we can’t be lazy or complacent in God’s Kingdom.  There’s too much at stake.  Jesus is coming soon and we better be ready.  There’s too much hurting and suffering in this world.  There are so many others who need compassion and saving too.  To forget or neglect them is the ultimate insult to the Savior who gave everything to come rescue us when we absolutely didn’t deserve it. 

So, Jesus’ final warning to the royal family of God is to make sure you show compassion to those in need.  And I want to make sure you know this about Jesus’ warning.  He specifically instructs His followers to show compassion to certain people.  In Matthew 25:35-36 he said, “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
Jesus clearly wants us to focus on helping people who are in need—people who are hungry and thirsty, people who are considered strangers, people who are naked (not adequately clothed and are vulnerable), people who are sick (physically or mentally), and those who are in prison.

Now, most folks who go to church regularly don’t mind sending a card to a friend when they’re sick.  We don’t mind going out to lunch with someone from our Sunday school class after church.  And we love it when a new family visits church on Sunday—especially if they seem like a nice family who has it all together.  But what about feeding a hungry stranger down at the City of Refuge on a Monday night?  Or how would you feel about sitting down to eat with a complete stranger who stopped by the church for a Wednesday night supper even though they looked dirty or smelled like cigarette smoke?  And when was the last time you visited someone in prison?  Have you ever?  Have you ever even written a letter to someone in prison?

At the end of the Age, when Jesus comes back, some people will inherit the Kingdom He prepared for them and others will be cast into hell and Jesus says the decision will be based on how we treat—not the rich, not the well-to-do family who visits our church, not our friends we feel comfortable around, but on how we treat—those who are hungry and thirsty, who are strangers to us, who are don’t have adequate clothing, and those who are sick and in prison.

Invitation to Join the Mission
Those who believe in Jesus Christ, who have been saved by His grace and bow to Him as Lord, are on a mission.  Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ—to share the Good News about God’s Kingdom throughout the whole.  We have plenty to share it with right here in Whitfield County.  There is a time for celebrating and a time for work.  For many, this week will be a time of resting and celebrating Thanksgiving.  Sunday worship is also a time to celebrate.  I hope you enjoy the rest and celebration.  But then remember, there is a time for work too.  And we serve in a Kingdom with a mission.  When the feast is over, when the celebration is done, it’s time to get back to the work of the Kingdom.  I invite you today to make a commitment to join the mission—to intentionally choose to:
· Make sure your spirit is ready
· Make Sure You’re Investing Your Resources in the Kingdom
· Make Sure You Show Compassion and Love to Those in Need

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Kingdom Not of This World

Last week, I shared that everyone who believes in and follows Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is a king or queen in God's Kingdom.  I hope that knowledge gives all God's people great confidence.  We have dignity because God chose us to be His royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's very own possession.  It is a profound revelation that we are that important and loved by the God of the universe.  

Today, I want to share how we should live as royalty in God's Kingdom.  I thought I might get some insights by looking at how royal families on earth live.  So I did some research into the royal family of England.  I found some interesting facts about royal etiquette, but unfortunately, I don't think it will be very helpful in the Kingdom of God.  For instance:

  1. The royal family of England cannot be touched by non-royals (bummer--no hugs).  
  2. They are not supposed to eat shellfish  (apparently there is a fear of food poisoning).  
  3. All Royals must enter a room and sit at tables in order of  their royal rank.
  4. No one may eat after the Queen has finished eating.
  5. Royals cannot sit with their legs crossed.
  6. Royals must hold their eating utensils in the correct hands.
  7. Royals must hold a tea cups properly.

England is a limited monarchy.  There role of the royal family is mostly ceremonial.  However, in the past, there were absolute monarchies.  In an absolute monarchy, the king or queen has absolute power over the people.  The monarch can issue decrees–the quick, unchallenged creation of a law.  They can also impose unchallenged punishments or pardons.  Regardless of whether the royal decree, punishment, or pardon is fair or even makes sense, it must be obeyed because the king or queen has absolute authority.  I'm glad America is a democracy and not an absolute monarchy.  It isn't wise to let a mortal and fallible king or queen have absolute power.  We know of several examples of absolute monarchies and we can see the trouble they get into.  Israel in the Old Testament started out as an absolute monarchy.  The Roman Empire in Jesus' day was an absolute monarchy.  Even today, Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy.  

In the Kingdom of God, Jesus is an absolute monarch.  He created everything and He owns it all.  He is supreme and the only one worthy and able to rule with justice.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  But if we who follow Jesus Christ are kings and queens, how then shall we live?  Well, let's study what Jesus said.

John 18:36
Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”

So to start with, we see that the Kingdom of God is not of this world and so it doesn't follow the pattern of this world's royal families.  (Thank goodness, because I really like to eat shellfish!)  But what are the rules for God's Kingdom?  Again, listen to Jesus.

Luke 22:25-27
25 Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26 But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. 27 Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.

From Jesus' teaching, we can list 5 rules of Royal Etiquette in God's Kingdom.

Royal Etiquette in God’s Kingdom
Number 1 - The greatest kings and queens in God’s Kingdom are the servants of all.  
This first rule undergirds 
everything.  Jesus taught many different lessons throughout his ministry.  However, it was all founded on this one principle--servanthood.  Jesus was the greatest of all servants.  He left the glory of Heaven to come save us, even though we don't deserve it.  That is divine royalty and all the other rules of etiquette in God's Kingdom follow the first.

Number 2 - God’s kings and queens seek the glory of God.
Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  He is the only one worthy of glory.  Yet, Jesus didn't come to toot his own horn.  Jesus came to glorify God, not himself.  A king or queen in God’s Kingdom is loyal to God and seeks God’s will above all else.  They're not trying to get their own way, not seeking public approval or popularity, not wanting financial security or prosperity, not after power or influence.  God’s kings and queens are willing to lay down their life and sacrifice all for the sake of the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ.

Number 3 - God’s kings and queens are willing to sacrifice so that others can find true joy.
What is true joy?  True joy is to know Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of the world.  Those who follow Jesus know that incredible joy and want the whole world to know it too.  So we go into all the world to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  We preach the Gospel and share the Good News so that as many as possible will lay down their selfish pursuits and come to know the source of true Joy.  And guess what?  This also brings glory to God (which is number 2)!

Number 4 - God’s kings and queens are willing to give up their own rights rather than hurt the Good News about Jesus Christ.
One of the greatest evangelists in God's Kingdom is the Apostle Paul.  He wrote most of the New Testament and shaped the early Church.  Paul wrote Galatians, an epic declaration of Christians freedom in Christ.  Paul was the great herald who preached about our absolutely free from all the rules and regulations of the Old Testament.  Yet look at how Paul lived.  He was willing to set aside his freedom for the sake of the Gospel.  Sometimes Paul chose not to eat or drink certain foods (not because he had to, but because he didn’t want to do anything that would hinder others from listening to his message about Jesus Christ).  For the same reason, Paul often refused the financial support he deserved from those he served; instead made his own living as a tentmaker and preached for free.  Paul would rather go hungry or dress poorly than be a financial burden to the ones he was trying to convert to Jesus.  The greatest evangelist was often beaten or was homeless or endured disrespect inside and outside the church for the sake of the Gospel.  And Paul even decided not to get married so he could devote all of his time to spreading Gospel to as many people as possible.  In the end, Paul died as a martyr.  We have great freedom and privilege as kings and queens in God's Kingdom, but we should be ready to set that all aside for the sake of sharing the Good News about Jesus with a dying world.  

Number 5 - God’s kings and queens aren’t worried about being in the spotlight or receiving recognition.  
Perhaps a wedding is a good illustration.  In a wedding, the bride and the groom are the most important people, but the matron of honor and the best man are important too.  The best man and matron of honor are honored as being very special people in the bride and groom's life, but the wedding is not about them.  They are there to assist the bride and groom and help everyone focus on them.  They sometimes share the spotlight, but they gladly give it up so that everyone can focus on the bride and groom.

Well, God’s kings and queens realize this life is not about them.  It’s about what we can do to shine the spotlight on others and ultimately on Jesus Christ—the only one who truly deserves to be recognized and admired.  Sometimes, we may share the spotlight with Jesus for a time.  It can be addicting; it is an amazing rush to stand beside Jesus and share in His glory, but God’s kings and queens realize the spotlight is not for us.  We graciously step aside when it’s time for us to get out of the way so the King of kings and Lord of lords can be seen more fully and receive all the glory.

If you follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are royalty in God's Kingdom.  It is an amazing privilege and honor.  As the royal family of God, we can live with confidence and dignity as we serve others, seek the glory of God, sacrifice for others, set aside our rights for the sake of the Kingdom's mission, and stop worrying about getting recognition.  Let's follow Christ's example--for the greatest in the Kingdom will be the servant of all.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

kings and queens

A scientist had a meeting with God and said, "God, we can now make clones and create human life and I think we can take care of ourselves and don't need you anymore."  God said, "OK, but before you go, let's have a contest to see who can make a human out of dirt the fastest."  The scientist looked down at the dirt and grabbed a handful and said, "OK, let's do it."  But God said, "No.  You go get your own dirt."

God spoke and the whole universe was created.  He made everything we see (and even what we can't see).  That's why God owns it all and is Master of it all.  Our relationship with God is not a democracy.  We don't get to vote on whether He rules.  He rules because he owns it.  And you can't move to the moon if you don't like it, because God owns that too.  

All throughout the Bible, God is called Lord.  We don't use that word much today in America, because we live in a democracy.  A lord is one having power & authority over others because they own the property and/or are superior to all others.  God is Lord because He owns it all--including you and me.  Furthermore, God is superior to all others; there is no one better qualified to rule.

A king rules, but also has the right to appoint others to rule with him.  Today, I want to discuss how God--the King of kings and Lord of lords--chooses special people to be kings and queens in His Kingdom.

1 Peter 2:8-9
8“He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.  But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

The Stumbling Block and a Chosen People
The other day, I came in from the garage to wash my hands in the basement bathroom.  I've walked down that hallway a million times and could easily do it with my eyes closed.  That's why it didn't bother me that the lights were off and I had to walk walk down the hall in the dark.  So I was walking along in my own little world not paying much attention, when bam!  I tripped over something.  Someone had left a book bag in the middle of the hallway floor.  You don't expect there to be a stumbling block like that in your pathway.  Who leaves a book bag in the middle of the hallway?
That's how Jesus came into our world.  1 Peter 2:8 says Jesus is a stone that makes people stumble..."  He caused the Roman Empire to stumble 2,000 years ago.  They were going along thinking everything was fine. They thought, “We rule the world! No one can stop us!"  Caesar thought he was a god and owned the whole world.  And then Jesus, the Son of God, came and showed everyone different.  The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus' day thought, “We are better than everyone else!” The Pharisees tried to prove they were holier than everyone else by follow the absolute letter of God's Law in the Torah.  They thought their righteousness would earn God's favor and bring about the reign of the Messiah.  And yet, when Jesus, the Messiah, actually came, they rejected him.  He was their stumbling block too.  Jesus is a stumbling block for people today as well.  People today try to live their life the way they want without any regard to God's will; they indulge their own selfish ambitions, but Jesus trips them up.  

Throughout history and even today, people stumble because they “do not obey God’s word.” (vs. 8) What is God’s Word?  Some say that God's Word is the Bible.  The Bible is God's Word, but people can use the Bible to say anything they want.  (The Pharisees tried to use God's Word to reject Jesus Christ, the Son of God.)  Jesus is God's Word.  However, few people really know who Jesus is and what he actually said and taught.  Many people today want to make Jesus into some mythical figure who loved everybody and carried around baby lambs everywhere; but they never look into the Bible to see who Jesus, the Word of God, really is and what he taught.

We find God’s True Word when we go to the Bible to see Jesus.  You can't just use the Bible to justify your actions or as a weapon against other people.  You have to read the Bible while listening obediently to what God says through Jesus Christ.  You have to humble yourself.  Jesus’ true followers hear and obey God’s Word.  1 Peter 2:9 says those who hear and obey God’s Word are special.

We are special because we are chosen by God.  God specifically selects people who listen and obey.  Of all the people in the world, God passes over some of the most talented, wealthiest, mor obvious choices, and instead intentionally selects people willing to be humble and listen and obey His Word.

We are also special because we are royal priests.  Many people get excited about news of the royal family in England--what they say, how they dress, who they are marrying.  (I never understood this because they are not my royal family.  No disrespect intended, but I'm an American and I don't see the fascination for Americans.)  God's Word says Jesus' followers are royal.  That's something to get excited about!  And it says we are a royal priesthood.  What does a priest do?  They pray for people, heal people, forgive sins, bring wholeness, and help people connect to God.  Well, if you listen and obey the Word of God, you are a priest.  You can pray for people, heal people, forgive sins, bring wholeness, and help people connect with the One True God!  That's pretty special!

But there's more.  We are special because we are a holy nation.  Together, all the followers of Christ are God’s special nation (or Kingdom).  And we are God’s very own possession.  You know, people take care of the things they own.  If you rent a house or a car, you should take care of it.  But if you own the house or the car, it is even more special to you and you will pay special attention to caring for those things you actually own.  And no one is more qualified or capable and guaranteed to take car of their possessions than God.   God takes care of His stuff so He's gonna take care of you.

Luke 22:28-30
“You have stayed with me in my time of trial. 29 And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right 30 to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

3 Important Lessons
There are three important lessons I want you to hear from Jesus' word in Luke 22:28-30. 

Number 1. Stay with Jesus – We are God's Kingdom, His royal priesthood, but we still live in enemy territory. Most of the world still does not yet obey God’s Word. They were so threatened by the Lord, they crucified Him.  Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Do you trust Jesus enough to stay with him, even when there’s trouble?

Number 2. Share the Royal Feast – Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords and He invites his followers to eat and drink at His table in His Kingdom. The greatest example of the Kingdom Feast available in the world today is the Lord's Supper (Holy Communion, the Eucharist).  You should partake of it often.  For in doing so, we sit at the table with the King and we remember what He did for us and how it changes everything and we also see how to live and find the strength we need to do it.

Number 3. We are kings and queens – Jesus said we will sit on thrones and rule the twelve tribes of Israel.  Who sits on a throne?  Kings and queens sit on thrones.  I have much more I want to say about what it means to rule as a king or queen in God's Kingdom and I will next week.  However, for today, I just want you to know and be encouraged that Jesus says you are a king or a queen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Sinners, Saints, & Kings

Today, I begin a 4-week series about living in the Kingdom of God.  It was inspired by an interesting message I heard by the evangelist Myles Munroe, where he shed light on the Kingdom of God by considering the rules and protocol of living under the authority of a royal family.  I hope you will join me each week as we delve into some important concepts about living in the Kingdom of God.

We are so blessed to live in America. I am so thankful for our freedom. And as voting day in my community approaches on November 6, I am grateful we get to vote for who will lead us. Now, our choice of leaders often leaves much to be desired, but we have the choice.  Can you imagine if we didn’t have a choice?  Suppose our leaders didn’t have to work to win our vote.  Suppose they were chosen for us or inherited their position by birth?

That’s the way it is in some countries. That’s the way it's been for most of the world’s history. Before my country’s forefathers broke away from England, leaders were appointed by the king of England or simply gained their leadership position as a birthright without any regard to the people’s wishes?  If you think America's government is a mess, just imagine what a mess it would be if the democratic process didn't hold leaders accountable!

Democracy is not perfect, but I believe it is the best form of government on this earth.  Kingdoms and dictatorships don’t work on earth, because a sinful nature resides in us all and it corrupts leaders to the point they abuse their power.   Without democracy, there is no way to hold leaders accountable.  In America, “we the people” hold our government in check when we vote.  It is the best governmental system we have found to live under in our broken world.

But today, I tell you the Kingdom of Heaven is not a democracy.  The Kingdom of Heaven is a kingdom—The Kingdom.  And it is ruled by a king—The King. You don't get a vote. Either pledge allegiance or realize you are a traitor.  Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but do you know what that means?  Do you think it will be a democracy in Heaven?  Do you think you will get to vote on who leads you or what you will do or how you will live?  No.  It is a Kingdom ruled by the King.

Furthermore, I tell you the Kingdom of God is not just some place we go when we die.  The Kingdom of God (AKA the Kingdom of Heaven, for the terms are interchangeable) is right here among us, right now.  The core message of Jesus’ teaching was not about a heaven we go to when we die.  Jesus said, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2)  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection ushered in the Kingdom of God.  So we who call ourselves Christians, who proclaim that Jesus is Lord, live in the Kingdom of Heaven right now.  And to the extent we accept and follow the rule of Jesus the King right now, we experience the glory and reward given to all who live in the Kingdom of God.

I want to read a couple scriptures and make some comments as we go. 

Judges 17:6In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.

In a democracy, people choose leader. A kingdom is led by the rightful ruler.  A king supposedly gets his right to rule from God—it is a divine right.  To start with, Israel didn't have a man who served as their king, because they considered God as their King.  Unfortunately, when everything was going well for the kingdom, the people would stop listening to their King (God) and start doing whatever they wanted.  So, the nations who lived around them would start to raid, invade, and oppress the Israelites.  They would cry out to God to save them and God would, but as soon as things started going well again, the people would forsake the King (God) and do whatever seemed right in their own eyes and the cycle would repeat.  

So rather than learning from their mistakes, the Israelites decided they wanted to be like all the other nations around them--they wanted an earthly king.  They thought this would solve their problems.  God warned them that an earthly king would get power hungry and take their property and make them pay taxes and misuse his power, but the people were adamant.  "We want a king—just like everyone else!”  What an ungrateful thing to do!  They were essentially rejecting God as their King in favor of a mortal king.  

This is what our sinful nature leads us to do.  We want to do things our own way—“whatever seems right in our own eyes.”  We don't want to give allegiance to THE KING.  We want to be our own way.  The results are predictable.  We make a mess of our lives.  We sin.  We hurt ourselves and others and we break God's heart.  This predicament is not just something we read about in the Bible; we can see it playing out all around us even today.  

We are broken.  This is why Jesus came to live among us.  He came to save us from ourselves and help us return to the reign of God, our rightful King.

Matthew 3:2 - “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
Jesus’ core message was repent because the Kingdom of Heaven (or God) is near.  His primary message was not love, not healing, not 'die and go to heaven'; it was repent. You see, you can’t enjoy the benefits of the Kingdom (which are love and healing and eternal life) unless you enter into the Kingdom.  And you can’t enter into the Kingdom unless you repent and accept the rule of the King.  So we need to repent!

How do you repent and accept the rule of the King?
First, you must be sorry for your sin.  Recognize that you are a sinner.  In other words, realize that you have not obeyed the King.  This is not a minor detail.  You have rejected the rightful rule of the King of the universe.  You are a traitor and you need to beg for mercy.

Second, confess your sins to God.  You need to go before the King and confess that you have sinned against Him.  Whatever other sins you have committed, your biggest sin has been neglecting your duty to honor, obey, and love the Lord your God.  Bow your head and pray to God and confess.

Third, ask forgiveness.  Ask the King to show mercy and forgive your sin.  God's mercy and grace are amazing.  If you are truly sorry and ask for forgiveness, He is faithful and just and will forgive you.

Fourth, make restitution. Sin causes real damage.  You need to do what you can to make it right.  A few years ago, we were doing some painting at our church.  The painter left the paint cans outside on the playground where he was painting, planning to return to work the next day.  Well, some kids who lived nearby were playing on our playground and saw the paint.  They decided to get into some mischief.  They opened the cans and splashed the paint all over our brick wall.  It was all caught on our security cameras; we even had footage of them walking home to their house and going inside.  So, we went to the parents and showed them the pictures of their kids vandalizing our property.  They made their kids say they were sorry and come back to the church to clean up their mess.  That is restitution.  When we sin, we need to do what w can to make the wrong right.  Sometimes you can never make up for what you’ve done.  And certainly, our sin against God is so great we can never pay for it.  Thankfully, Jesus death on the cross paid the cost of our sin in full.  However, we must still sincerely ask forgiveness and do what you can do to show our change of heart.  Remember, you’re not earning forgiveness, you are showing a change of heart.

Fifth, forsake a life of sin.  Make a commitment to follow Jesus and obey him as your Lord. This is not a one time commitment; it is a way of life.  Everyday you are going to wake up know God is your King and you are going to live your life for Him from now on.  I encourage you to talk to someone about your commitment—a family member, a wise Christian friend, a mentor, or a pastor. You need their support to help you and hold you accountable. 

Finally, receive forgiveness. When we repent of our sin, God is faithful to forgive us. Jesus washes us clean and we start over as a brand new person with a clean slate. Now it’s also time to forgive yourself and receive the peace God gives to everyone who truly repents and trusts in Jesus. You are forgiven. Now forgive yourself. 

There is much more to explore about living in the Kingdom of God, but this is enough for today.  I hope you will check back next week for part two.  Let me end by saying:  a saint is just a sinner saved by the grace and forgiveness of God.  Those Christians who have died and gone to heaven--perhaps someone you've known and loved--in the Kingdom of God cheering us on.  They can see what we cannot see.  They see the King and the Kingdom.  They are cheering for you, hoping you will trust in what you cannot see—but what they can see—the love and grace and forgiveness and Lordship of Jesus Christ.  If you want to be in the Kingdom with them, turn to Jesus today for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Wrestling with God, Part 2

            This is part 2 of a study of the fascinating Bible story about Jacob wrestling with God.  This is one of the most epic stories of the Bible.  It is where the name Israel comes from—the name of God’s chosen people and the name of the country we know today as a key ally in the Middle East.  For us, the story is an image of the violent struggle to build a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
          Jacob was born as a twin brother to Esau, with whom Jacob had a great rivalry.  Jacob's name literally means "heel grabber" because Jacob was grasping his brother's heal as Esau emerged from his mother's womb. The sibling rivalry between Jacob and his older brother Esau was fueled by their parents' favoritism.  Their father, Isaac, favored Esau, but their mother, Rebekah, preferred Jacob.  Jacob was a cunning man and he found a way to trick Esau out of the family blessing and inheritance.  It infuriated Esau so much he vowed to kill Jacob.  Jacob had to run for his life to a foreign land.  Well, years went by and Jacob grew up and grew wealthy with wives, servants, children, and possessions. He decided it was time to finally come home and face his brother Esau. Jacob is on the way home when we come to the strange story in Genesis chapter 32.  

Genesis 32:22-32
22 During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. 23 After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions.
24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 “What is your name?” the man asked.
He replied, “Jacob.”
28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”
29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.
“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.
30 Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” 31 The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip. 32 (Even today the people of Israel don’t eat the tendon near the hip socket because of what happened that night when the man strained the tendon of Jacob’s hip.)

The Spiritual Struggle
Building a relationship with God through Jesus Christ is not a casual pursuit.  It is spiritually violent process, like Jacob wrestling with God, where God wrestles with our sinful attitudes and behavior and we strivethrough the power of the Holy Spirit—to become more like Christ.  It takes passion, determination, and a deep hunger and thirst for the Kingdom of God. 
Imagine a wrestling match where the athletes are throwing one another to the ground, grappling, twisting, pressing their full weight and strength against one another.  Elbows and knees sometimes smash into bodies or faces as the opponents struggle for dominant positions, reach for holds, and fight for submission.  Jacob’s hip was torn from its socket during his match with God.  I can’t imagine the pain!  
Grappling during Jiu-Jitsu is one of the most strenuous exercises I have ever done in my life—even more physically challenging than the high school football I played back in the day.  Does this describe the way we pursue our relationships with Christ?  Should it?
In the New Testament, in Matthew 11:12, Jesus described His Kingdom this way:  he said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been advancing violently, and the violent take it by force.”  What did Jesus mean?  Well, we know Jesus did not use physical violence to force his Kingdom upon the earth.  He did not raise an army wielding swords and spears.  Jesus never physically tried to overthrow the establishment by military force.  So what did Jesus mean?

“The Kingdom of God is advancing violently…”
Jesus taught forgiveness, peace, and love.  These words don’t make us think of violence.  However, forgiveness, peace, and love are radically different from the ways of the world—both in Jesus time and in our own.  When forgiveness challenges malice, a violent struggle ensues for the soul of humanity.  When peace confronts war, there is violent opposition.  When love opposes hatred, it either converts or destroys the one who hates.
Many people today, just as in Jesus’ day, are fine with religion so long as it is just a thing kept on the side—a casual interest.  They are fine with it just so long as it is not taken too seriously.  They want to keep God packed away safely in a box and take Him out only on special occasions—when a baby is born or as a pretty decoration for a wedding or maybe when some problem overwhelms them and they want divine help.  However, God cannot be put in a box, let alone kept there.  He is the one who comes in the night and violently wrestles Jacob to the ground, dislocating his hip, and forcing him to fight for his life until he received a blessing.  
The Kingdom of God came through Jesus according to God’s timing.  No one said, “Ok God, give us some of that religion now.”  No sir!  God said, “It’s time.”  And He sent an angelic host to announce his Son’s birth.  They shouted, “The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!”  And with Jesus, the Kingdom of God came crashing into our world like a violent, unstoppable hurricane.  Everyone was confronted with the choice to accept or reject Jesus as Lord. 
The same choice confronts you today.  You cannot just say Jesus is Lord and continue do whatever you like.  For choosing your own way over the Lord’s is a rejection of Jesus as Lord.  It doesn’t matter how many times you say you are a Christian; if you do not follow Jesus, you are not his disciple.  For Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is advancing forcefully today.  It’s here to grab you, wrestle you to the ground, and demand a response.  Who is Jesus to you?  How will you respond him?  Will you commit to follow him with your whole heart or be left behind? 

“...And the Violent Take it by Force.”
            I watched a documentary on the fall of Saigon in Vietnam in 1975.  After years of fighting, the capital of South Vietnam was about to fall to the communist North.  The capture of the Saigon was imminent and preceded by the evacuation of almost all the American civilian and military.  More problematic were the tens of thousands of South Vietnamese associated with the southern regime who had fought against North Vietnam.  What was to become of them?  There just wasn’t room to evacuate all the South Vietnamese from Saigon and many feared that once communists took control of the city, a bloodbath of reprisals would take place.  
Chaos ensued as American soldiers and officials agonized about who they could save and who would have to stay.  Refugees seeking asylum crowded against gates and in many cases scaled the walls of the American buildings and military bases.  It was most often those who in their determination violently pushed their way through barricades that escaped to safety.  Americans airlifted as many as they could.  Accurate numbers are hard to determine, but the number of South Vietnamese refugees to enter the United States totaled 138,869.  Sadly, it is alleged that some 30,000 South Vietnamese who did not make it out of Saigon were systematically killed by the North.
The evacuation of Saigon is similar to Jesus' description of how the violent take the Kingdom of God by force.  Do you think you will come into God’s Kingdom simply by sitting on your rump in a pew each Sunday?  Jesus said the violent take the Kingdom by force.  The image is that of an invading army scaling the walls of a castle, fighting their way through the defenders, breaking down the doors to the stronghold, and taking over the Kingdom.  Or if you like, imagine the frightened South Vietnamese of Saigon on April 30th, 1975 scaling the walls of the US Embassy, forcing their way onto the last crowded helicopters leaving for the safety of US ships anchored off shore.
Brothers and sisters, the Kingdom of God is at hand.  This is your last hope of salvation.  I want you to feel the sense of urgency those Vietnamese refugees felt.  Time is running out.  You need to come into the Kingdom.  You need to push your way in violently, if needs be.  Don’t let anything keep you out.  Abandon your possessions if you have to.  What good are worldly goods if you lose your own soul?  Forsake all your sin.  You cannot afford to carry all that extra baggage with you as a refugee in the Kingdom.  Put it down.  Leave it behind.  Come to Jesus with only the clothes on your back if you need to.  Force your way in and grab hold of Jesus and refuse to let go just like Jacob refused to let go of God until God blessed him.
Jacob wrestled with God.  He clung to him all night, battered and bruised, hip torn from its socket, he refused to let go until God blessed him.  Accordingly, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel because, according to verse 28, he “…fought with God and men and won.”  
What about you?  Are you determined to find Salvation through Jesus Christ?  Are you willing to do whatever it takes to come into His Kingdom?  Then come and kneel before Jesus here at the altar and proclaim Him your Lord and Savior.
And what about you, Christian?  You became a follower of Jesus years ago.  Jesus welcomed you in as a refugee.  You had nothing to offer and no other hope, but Jesus welcomed you anyway.  Will you now just be content to casually lounge around while so many are still outside the walls needing salvation?  Some don’t even know how urgently they need salvation.  They don’t even know their Enemy, Death, is fast approaching and their eternity is in danger.  Others are pressing at the gates trying to get—forced there by the struggles of life:  poverty, substance abuse, heartache, anxiety, depression, loneliness, sickness, loss…  So often, they find the gates of the church locked—locked by our fear of them, locked by our apathy, locked by our complacency.  Will you not join the fight to bring them all in—as many as we can, for as long as we can, by as many means as we can—before it is too late?