Around 4,000 years ago, Moses, who was called by God to lead the descendants of Israel out of Egypt, came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, written from the Finger of God. From this foundation a nation was built of citizens who were to be known as the chosen people of God.
Almost 2,000 years later the Messiah, of whom Moses and other prophets after him foretold, appeared to this same nation. Both He and His forerunner, John the Baptist, began by announcing great and wonderful news. This good news was of the nearness of the Kingdom of God. Those who responded to His call for repentance were then called to follow His teachings concerning this heavenly kingdom.
Like Moses, Jesus would spend many hours alone with God on a mountain. As Moses revealed the Holiness of God to his people and gave His message from the mountain, Jesus would lead His disciples up a mountain to lay the foundation for a greater, higher way of life. The result was to be a community of people over whom and through whom God would establish His kingdom on the earth.
His series of teachings in Matthew chapters 5 through 7 and Luke 6:20-49 are commonly known under the title of the Sermon on the Mount. While the 10 Commandments and the other laws given by God through Moses might seem by some to be focused on external behavior, the Words of Jesus went deeper. To Him, adultery and murder could be committed in the heart, and were just as sinful in the eyes of God.
Even the disciples of Jesus where troubled by this high standard. They even doubted that anyone could be saved! The answer came from Jesus: with men this standard is impossible, but with God all things are possible! He challenged them to follow Him. He challenges us to do the same today! His followers would gradually begin to understand just how God would empower them to live this impossible standard from the heart. First, they were given the privilege of observing Him every day. They saw not only His love, mercy and power revealed toward those in need, they also observed His perfect character.
Ultimately they saw Him allow Himself to be offered up for our sins, and to be raised from the grave for our victory! Before returning to heaven He announced that all authority was given to Him in heaven and in earth. In turn He authorized them to disciple all people, to teach them His ways, His principles as He had discipled them.
Then came the final piece of puzzle that had confused them earlier. They were to gather together and wait in Jerusalem for another great miracle. They had heard many things from Jesus which they had stored up in their hearts. Soon the promise of the Holy Spirit would come to them in power. He would bring the Words of Jesus to their minds with the correct understanding. They would be given the power to live up to this glorious high calling to love as he loved, give as He gave, sacrifice as He sacrificed, and lift up others as he had done!
The first generation of believers in Christ famously answered His call. It was even the testimony of their enemies that they turned the world upside down!
That energy and enthusiasm eventually began to wane, even as the New Testament was being written. Jude, a half brother of Jesus, wrote a letter urging the churches to “contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” In the book of Revelation, Christ rebuked the Ephesian church for leaving their first love. It cannot be certain exactly what happened and how things began to change. At the same time, we do know that many of these early believers and their leaders gave their lives for Christ.
Some information can be gathered from the records of their writings and from secular history. It appears that false teachers began to mix the Gospel with other religions of that day. This pressed Christian leaders to answer with clarifications concerning the doctrines of what the true church believed. One of the earliest statements of faith is traditionally known as the Apostles Creed, which most churches acknowledge today. After that even more statements were written to deal with the controversies of each generation.
Because some were denying the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, the crucifixion and the resurrection, the true believers needed to stand for these truths and confess them openly. However, the supernatural life of Christ in His church was becoming less and less evident. True, we need to confess all the foundational truths of the Bible and prevent doctrinal error from destroying the faith. Certainly the apostles would approve of this diligent effort, but these simple fishermen, tax collectors, and revolutionaries also knew that only faith IN, trust IN, the person of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit to live out His words could save the church from its enemies!
His sermon on the mount was the foundation of the Kingdom community that he was building, but it has been all but forgotten in the minds of many. Where in the great creeds do we find anything about holy love, holy forgiveness, holy righteousness? Where in the creeds are we urged to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus? Perhaps these things are to be assumed. We are not saved by our good works, but by faith. But is that the same thing as simply believing things about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
Have we forgotten the simple and potent power of God’s Word? The Sermon on the Mount and the other sayings of Jesus are not like the words of men. His words are transformative! We can be “born again” by the power of His Words! Our motives and attitudes can be changed so that we can spontaneously fulfill the law as we love God and our neighbors as ourselves! My hope is that we can learn to treasure all of Christ’s words, letting them abide in us deeply. They can play a powerful part in bringing us into a deeper relationship with Him, transforming us into His image for His glory!
First the Kingdom Part 37, Through Much Tribulation
Each one of us has areas of concern that are common as well as those that differ from the other. Sometimes they lead us to believe we are right and the other person is wrong when at times 2 views can be actually 2 sides of the same coin. My particular focus has for a long time been with history in mind. Because I have a general knowledge of the history before my time, I can see how things have improved in the world more than we realize.
At the same time my generation has clearly seen a steady loss of basic virtues in our culture and in the people who are shaped by it. The causes of this might appear to be many and complicated. Those who study the social sciences more than I have can look at how technology has affected us. Others, like myself tend to look at the failure of leadership in the church, and the lack of sincerity found in the the people themselves. We see at the heart of every problem a spiritual battle, and tend to focus on spiritual solutions.
At the time I am preparing this teaching, my home nation is in a great struggle. Two perspectives that existed in balance from the beginning of our political existence are now in an ideological war with one another. Some fear that it will evolve into more than that very soon. As I approach my 70th birthday I have to admit, that to me the thought of a full civil war sounds absolutely terrifying. It is a thought that I had never expected to come to mind in all my years.
Maybe I am being naive, but I still have hopes that things can be turned around, and that our country can be spared such a future. I also believe that the church of Jesus Christ could play a powerful role in a positive outcome. In my study of history I have found that war is not always avoidable, but I have also found that faith in our all-powerful God can motivate us to accomplish great things for His glory. Revivals have come to cities, counties, and countries in the past. By revivals I mean times when the Holy Spirit sweeps over hundreds and thousands to change hearts and minds for the better. Society itself can become inspired and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit working with and through God’s people.
As the general culture in the media and in the educational world has increasingly turned against biblical Christianity, believers have risen up to defend the faith in many arenas. In the past few years and even more so in the past months the political arena has been the focus of many Christians. There is no doubt that attention needs to be given to what happens in our government and I have tried to follow events as best as I can. It would be shameful for any follower of Christ to ignore the opportunities He has afforded us here. I bless those who are called to focus on this arena and pray for them as well.
My only question is this: how is that been working out? Are more people coming to know Christ? Are more people learning the teachings of Christ and His Kingdom? Are believers themselves becoming better examples and “shining as lights in the world?” Has the environment around us become better than before as a result of these efforts?
The Chinese philosopher Confucius is said to have made this statement:
“If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.
If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nations.
When there is order in the nations, there will peace in the world.”
In the 1960’s rock song, “Easy To Be Hard,” these words were expressed:
“How can people be so heartless?
How can people be so cruel?
Easy to be hard,
Easy to be cold.
How can people have no feelings?
How can they ignore their friends?
Easy to be proud,
Easy to say no
And especially people,
Who care about strangers,
Who care about evil,
And social injustice.
Do you only
Care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?
I need a friend.”
In history I have learned of great leaders who stood for Christ in the political arena. I have also learned of Christian preachers who spoke out against the injustices occurring in their day. I am in no way promoting a passive position when it comes to conditions in this world. I am not one of those people who see any effort to improve the lives of their fellow humans as a fools mission. I greatly resist the pessimistic message of some who believe these efforts are like “polishing the brass on a sinking ship,” or “making the world a better place to go to hell from.”
At the same time I want to address what I see as an “either/or” fallacy. Among Christians I am becoming weary of the faith vs works argument, when both are important. More recently we are debating between personal and corporate responsibility. Confucius started with the individual, and believed that the world could be ultimately changed. The song I referenced mourned the fact that during the sixties some were concerned for strangers, but neglected those who were near to them. Why can’t we have both compassion for those we know, and also reach out to those we don’t know? why can’t we have faith in God AND good works that will help others?
A war is already on and it has been going on from the beginning of the human race. In fact it is an internal struggle within every heart. Too many times this spiritual war has found expression also in families, neighborhoods, cities, and nations. Every area in which this struggle rages must be addressed. Jesus and all the prophets before Him were aware of the need to face this fact. They addressed individual sin, as well as national sin. So we are not insisting on choosing between either individual or collective issues. But we are insisting on dealing with the root problem that lies at the bottom of all.
That is why Jesus began with repentance and faith, a new birth in the Spirit. The foundation for the new world he was bringing to pass was a new humanity. This new humanity was to light the way to a better world. At the time, the early followers of Christ had almost no political power, and yet their message spread like wildfire! It was a matter of time until the Roman authorities began to crack down on Christianity. Many were tortured and forced to deny Christ. Others endured and survived, others were martyred.
The courage that unbelievers saw in the Christians and the evil actions of their persecutors had an impact on them over time. The stone that Daniel saw in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream had been rolling over and crushing the power of an oppressive regime! The tide of public opinion began to turn towards the believers and in fact large numbers joined them in the faith. The persecution ended in early in the Fourth Century and many improvements in the culture began to take place. This of course was not the final battle between the darkness and the light, but we can take great encouragement and learn from this example.
So how can modern Christians in free countries apply these lessons? I have thought about this question as have most of us. Paul defended his right to a trial as a Roman citizen and it makes sense that we should use legal means to protect our rights to worship as well. However, the same laws that protect our right to worship also must protect the beliefs of others. Those involved in the courts and in government have the opportunity to voice what they believe are God’s righteous and fair ways, while the rest us of have a voice in our families, neighborhoods, schools and churches. Paul urged meekness and humility in our attempts to encourage others to follow Christ.
Rude, obnoxious attitudes, and exaggerations of the truth might draw a large audience on social media, but I cannot see it changing any minds. In fact I only see increased hardness against the Christian perspective resulting from this approach. We are to give a reason for what we belief with meekness and respect.
1 Peter 3:13-18:
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
No one will want to know what we believe if we are too busy convincing them that we are their enemies. And even if they are our enemies, what did Christ say for us to do to them? Love them! Pray for them and bless them! Do good for them! Why? That you might prove to be sons of your Father in heaven, who causes His sun to shine and rain to fall on the just and the unjust! (Matthew 5:44-45).
It is often necessary to expose the evil plans, purposes and actions of others, for the sake of those who are being oppressed by them. However, God has shown us that first we must check our own hearts. Without His grace we are just as capable of evil and selfish actions.
The Kingdom of God is realm of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. We cannot have true peace and joy without His righteousness. That word implies fairness and equity based upon the truth. What I am calling for is a commitment to honesty and the truth. I love our country as much as anyone else, and want to see God bless us — not because we think we are better, but because we honor Him in our thoughts and actions. If God would have spared Sodom and Gomorrah for 10 righteous men, certainly He can spare America through the intercessory prayers of millions who believe in Him!
In Acts, after preaching in new areas, Barnabas and Paul returned to several cities, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ” Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:21-23 NASU) It is difficult to read through a significant portion of the New Testament without learning of the many hardships the early believers endured in their pursuit of God’s Kingdom. This might sound like a “negative confession” to some, but don’t they know that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us?” (Romans 8:18)
So how well have our earthly, political weapons served us? May we be encouraged by these additional words of Paul:
2 Corinthians 10:3-4:
For though we walk (live) in the flesh, we are not carrying on our warfare according to the flesh and using mere human weapons.
For the weapons of our warfare are not physical [weapons of flesh and blood], but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds,
The real power is in obeying Christ. The real power is in His love. The real power is in humbling ourselves as he did and serving others out of genuine compassion. The real power is in praying for all people, including our enemies. In this way we truly shine as lights in the darkness of this world!
First the Kingdom part 36 The Pearl of Great Price
What is most important to you? What do you value the most? All to often we look at our behavior without considering what motivates us. As human beings we can easily become conflicted when our physical desires compete with those things we value the most. We need worthy values that can definitely keep us from becoming consumed by our unhealthy desires.
In my lifetime I have not been through 2 world wars or the great depression, but I have lived through times of both personal and national tragedies.
The assassinations of JFK, his brother Robert, and Martin Luther King reflected the darkness of those times. The racial tensions of the 60’s and the war in Vietnam continue to affect us today. The Covid-19 pandemic is currently affecting people around the world, whatever they believe about it. America is more divided than I have ever seen, and even Christians appear to be divided over a great many issues.
Jesus gave the solution, the answer that we all need 2,000 years ago. It was the answer I needed over 40 years ago, which I continually need the think about. It is the reason I am bringing this 36th chapter in this series. Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom of God. He spent the entire 3 1/2 years of His ministry teaching and preaching about the Kingdom. He told us that seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness should be our first priority in life. In seeking God’s will for us we will learn to trust in His protection, care and provision for us. Yes, we can be free from overwhelming fear and worry!
Sadly, far too many people are being taught to seek power, pleasure and possessions. Some Christians even equate these things to the Kingdom of God! It is the times like those we are experiencing now that often reveal our faulty foundations. Those who value these things more than the love of God are the most vulnerable. Perhaps they have learned about His grace and have received His forgiveness without having grown through discipleship.
The proof of this can be found in the many failed marriages, addictions to chemical substances, and the casual sex among professing Christians.
But we are not here to condemn anyone. We are here to share in the work of Jesus Who brought us His Good News! This message brings an entirely new way to look at life, the world around us and eternity! It also represents a different value system that drives us internally to holiness, righteousness and love!
Jesus once told two stories about men who found something that was worth more than all they had owned.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
In the first story something valuable was hidden. In order to gain possession of it this man had to purchase something he did not want or need. But to him the treasure he found in the field was worth the price of the land, which cost him everything.
So the kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure. I can personally testify to this. I grew up in church and in an extended family of serious believers. My grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher in a time when we were like the underdogs of Christianity. Even though I believed from my earliest years that Jesus was my Savior and Lord, I could not quite get what the Pentecostal church was all about. I did not know until age 21 that within that “field” there was hidden treasure! While I admit there were some errors and confusion in the Pentecostal movement back then, I would not trade my experience growing up for anything.
When we think about other passages of scripture which emphasize the free gift of salvation, how are we to understand the moral of this story? Are we being asked, like the rich young ruler, to sell all that we have and give to the poor to find eternal life? Are we being told to buy our way into heaven? Let’s stop and think about this for a minute.
The man who found the hidden treasure is one who knew the value of this treasure. He is like those of us who have heard the Gospel, believed it and have received forgiveness and grace from God. Once our eyes have been opened, we see that the true treasure is Christ Himself! At this point, many thousands have followed through from that time forward and placed knowing Christ above all else. Like Paul the apostle, they pressed toward the mark, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ! They pursued eternal life on this side of the grave, for knowing Him IS Life Eternal! They did not consider the high price of following Christ. They were overjoyed that they have found Him and desired to know Him more!
On the other hand, there are those who are satisfied to seek for what ever pleasures they can find in an earthly existence. They are willing to look for eternal life only beyond the grave. Such a value system does not motivate heroism, sacrifice and servanthood. Much potential for the Kingdom of God is lost.
In the second example, the man was a merchant who knew what he was looking for. He did not stumble upon a hidden treasure. The precious pearl was in plain sight, and the seller knew full well of its value. He asked for the highest price the merchant could afford, everything!
My question for you today is this: Are you struggling to keep focussed on Christ in these confusing times? Do you lose your joy over trivial things, much less major shifts in society or the economy? Have you considered the early Christians and even those in our day whose faith have prevailed over much greater dangers than those we face?
Is it possible that a fresh look at Jesus Christ and his message, the Gospel of the Kingdom could renew your joy in Him? Could a greater understanding give you a new perspective on His purpose for your life in the present reality of His Kingdom on earth? Yes, there is a realm that is beyond our imagination, which will be made known to us in the ages to come! But there is also a dimension of life to be lived on this earth now, and a future that we can help build as we participate with Christ today!
God is on the move in this earth today! We need to arise and become a part of what He is doing. We can be workers together with Him! The Kingdom of heaven is this treasure, this pearl of great price. When we realise how wonderful and real it is, when we can see the beauty and wonder of God’s plan working in this earth, we will gladly and joyfully give ourselves to serving in it!
First the Kingdom, episode 34: Praying the Lord’s Prayer
Back in 1963, the day in our local Junior High school began either in the main auditorium or home room with the pledge of allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer. Eventually a recent Supreme Court decision that school sponsored prayer was unconstitutional began to change that tradition. I specifically remember our home room teacher announcing to us that she would continue to pray the Lord’s Prayer, but also that anyone in the room could freely opt out.
Even though prayer was not technically banned from schools, the public perception was that our government had joined the movement of modern times against simple faith in an all-powerful God. As much as the opponents of public prayer in schools have denied this, the results speak for themselves. The fact is, believers can always pray in the USA. The real loss is what the children who did not know Christ might have gained from learning this prayer back then. Today I would add that even some children of of believing families have often lost the rich benefits of knowing and reciting this prayer.
Some time back I attended the funeral of a retired police officer. At the grave site, the pastor recited a passage of scripture and began praying “Our Father, Who art in heaven….” Immediately, and without prompting, everyone there began to join him in the prayer that was well known to his generation. It was a refreshing experience that brought me back to those junior high school days when hundreds of students would recite this prayer together!
One complaint I heard from a Jewish girl was that she did not want to pray a Christian prayer. In fact all the elements of this prayer can be found in the prayers of their own Hebrew scriptures, known to Christians as the Old Testament. I count myself greatly and richly blessed to have been taught from the entire Bible, both the old and new testaments. In the Lord’s Prayer I am reminded how Jesus felt about past generations, the promises that were given unto them, and the hope of the fulfillment that he was bringing.
This model prayer sums up the foundational and crucial elements of the Christian life. It keeps us mindful of the intimate relationship we have with our Heavenly Father, and our goal to glorify Him.
As we pray We become conscious of our part in bringing righteousness, peace and joy – His kingdom to this earth. We understand our constant need for Him, His provisions and His forgiveness, as well as our need to forgive others.
Finally in it we seek for His guidance and protection every day, and acknowledge that everything good, loving and holy comes from His reign over us in power and eternal victory.
Anyone who is at all familiar with the prayers in the Bible should know that God listens to all sorts of prayers. We are in no way limited to praying this one short prayer. At the same time the use of this or any memorized prayer should not be looked down on as ritualistic. what is in our hearts? That seems to be the important thing. When I think of how Jesus Himself gave us this wonderful gift to teach us and encourage us in prayer, how or why would we refuse it?
I invite you to pray along with me today:
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Philippians 3:20-21: For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (NASU)
If you have ever visited a country other than your native country, you might have felt a little strange or uncomfortable. I live in the US, and our neighboring country Canada, has a similar culture to ours. It is not so strange or different as some other countries. Still, when I visit there, I cannot expect to claim the exact same privileges that a Canadian citizen would claim. The same could be said of Australia, where my wife and I visited in the nineties. Other than their wonderful accents, and the fact that they drive on the opposite side of the road, we felt quite comfortable there.
Another country we have visited is India. Now I can tell you that it is a different world! The culture is very different in some ways. The food is different, the language of course is different, the money is very different. All the things we take for granted every day can become challenges when in another culture. While Canadian money is in dollars close to ours, Indian rupees do not easily translate to US dollars. Back then I would often hesitate when thinking of spending 1,000 Rupees until I did the math. That sum today amounts to only about $14 US dollars!
Some people possess dual citizenship. In one sense, a follower of Christ also possesses dual citizenship, living in two worlds. We live on this earth, and because of our love for Jesus Christ, we serve the inhabitants of this world for whom He gave His life. However our service will be more effective and powerful when we fully understand how our primary citizenship is in Christ, and in His Kingdom! This might not be as easy as it sounds. I was born into this world first as an earth-bound creature. Over time I developed this internal sense that something was not quite right, or complete.
At an early age I began to hear about the Word of God, and the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. This ignited that internal sense with a spark within me that has continued to grow and burn brighter year after year. I live in a material world that was created by God for His glory, but that world has become filled with corruption, sin and death. I am reminded of this fact every day of my life.
The knowledge that I am more than a material being has created a hunger for heavenly, spiritual things. I am not only talking about the future bliss that all believers know is real. I am talking about a present reality! This heavenly reality is where we all belong, and it includes the abundant life that Jesus came to bring! How often we overlook this fact: the mission of Jesus was to bring heaven to us! Everything he taught was to turn our way of thinking around towards this heavenly reality!
When I surrendered my heart and life to Christ my old life died and was buried with Him in baptism, in order that I can rise with Him from the grave as a new person! I have been translated from the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son of God! (Romans 6:4, Colossians 1:13)
The central message of Jesus was for us to “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near!” Certainly we all have sins for which we must repent, but we could legitimately take repentance even further. The original Greek word in the scripture means “to think differently.” The source of our sin is in our attitudes and patterns of thinking about ourselves and God. Paul the apostle once stated that repentance goes further than sorrow for sin, which is good. Godly sorrow leads to repentance, or a change of mind. (1 Corinthians 7:10)
The bible has much to say about our minds and habits of thinking. Unfortunately, many of us do not realize how important this matter really is. Truly we are greatly blessed to know our future is secure in Christ. Even when we fail, His love for us does not fade. However, in the mean time, there is a purpose for our being here and for our dual citzenship.
This cannot be better spelled out than in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Philippians 2:14-17: Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. (NASU)
Jesus Himself told His disciples that they were the light of the world, a city set on a hill that cannot be hid! This city is even now representative of another dimension known as the kingdom of heaven. The light that is in us should not be hidden from the world around us. It is naturally seen as we allow God to change our thinking to align with His.
Isaiah 55:8-9: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.
While no human can plumb the depths of God’s infinite wisdom and love, we are called to repent in order to receive from Him great increases in wisdom, knowledge, understanding and love. His Word comes to us and His Holy Spirit reveals unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness. (1 Peter 1:3). Our life in Christ begins and ends with the work of the Word of God challenging us and the work of the Holy Spirit to convict and empower us.
God Himself calls us and reveals His will unto us to bring us into the state of grace, forgiveness of sin and a fresh relationship with Him. This is only the beginning. The same power that called us to reconciliation calls us to a higher life, a heavenly life. That life is described in the bible as one characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith and self-control. But these attributes do not come from a self-improvement plan or 12 step program. They come from living in relationship with God and following the leading of the Holy Spirit, Who lives within us!
Colossians 3:1-3: Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.
So what are these higher things? He goes on to explain:
Colossians 3:12-17: So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
The “things of the earth” are not simply the material world, which God created and described as very good. In using heaven above and the earth beneath as descriptive terms, He is showing us that there is a lower plane of existence in things like: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech and lying. (Colossians 3:5-11).
Earlier I mention my visits to India. Before I could enter that great country, I had to get permission from a representative of India in the form of a visa. So I contacted the Embassy of India in Washington D.C.to receive directions for the application. The Embassy of India receives authority from a country that is more than 8,000 miles away. That authority is very real. In fact, I could not even get on a plane bound for India without a visa from the embassy.
2,000 years ago Jesus Christ established a colony on this earth which represents the Kingdom of heaven. It is the gathering of the community of those who have been born again to the new life and the new values of the kingdom. It is not defined by the organizations of men, but by the holiness of God that sets His people apart from the self-worshipping, self-serving ways of fallen humanity. Jesus personally trained those who would lead others into the Kingdom of God and gave them special authority much like embassadors that reside in other lands.
This authority is the Word of God, and it has the power to transform hearts and minds, to heal broken people and communities, to demonstrate the character of God, and to lighten the way in this dark world. Everyone who receives Christ, submits to His will, and is trained by Him can be commissioned by Him as an embassador of the Kingdom of heaven. And yet the newest believer born of the Spirit is already a genuine citizen of heaven!
The small community of apostles and other men and women that Jesus gathered has grown tremendously throughout the centuries. The number of true believers cannot be known by us. Jesus promised that His kingdom would be like the yeast that permeated the flour which rises to become a loaf of bread. Like the rock in the dream Daniel interpreted for King Nebuchadnezzar, it is bringing all other kingdoms to naught as it fills the earth. Yes, the knowledge of the glory of the Lord is filling the earth! The Kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ!
As citizens of the kingdom now we are privileged to enjoy the blessings of heaven and to usher in the appearance of heaven to earth. No act that originated from the mind of God is too small or insignificant in His plan. For 2,000 years we have been praying, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That prayer is being heard and will be manifestly answered, but we can see and experience the reality of the wonderful reign of Christ even now!
From early in the year 2020 the world has faced an unprecedented challenge in the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Large gatherings and even smaller gatherings of 10 people or more were cancelled in an attempt to slow down the spread of this mysterious illness that could potentially claim the lives of millions. Congregations around the world quickly realized the threat and sought new ways to stay in fellowship and to encourage one another outside of the normal gathering places we have called “churches” for centuries.
The word “church” has come down in the English language from early translations of the original Greek New Testament. Nowhere in the Bible itself does the word refer to a physical building. The Greek word in the New Testament is “Ekklesia,” which in the First Century was often used in reference to a meeting of people gathered to discuss community affairs. In the book of Acts, it is even used once to describe the gathering of an angry mob of unbelievers! (Acts 16:39-41)
In Christian writings the focus was always on the gathering of God’s people, and also on a sense of the community of believers when they were not together physically. Ekklesia literally means “the called out.” The early Christians understood that they had been “called out” of the darkness of sin in this world and into the “marvelous Light” of Christ and His Good News! (1 Peter 2:9) What ever translation you use, and what ever English word we use for Ekklesia, one only has to read the Bible to find out its meaning. In the Bible the church is described in metaphors like the Body of Christ of which each believer is a member. Together we represent Christ in this world!
In another place we are depicted as individual stones that make up a house that God Himself inhabits. The old temple in Jerusalem is gone, but Spirit-filled believers in Christ together make up a new Temple for the worship of God! Another lovely metaphor depicts God’s people as the Bride of Christ, which He purchased with His own blood to be His own precious companion! As you can see, God has an exalted position for those who love and worship Him! He lives not only among His people but in them as well! They are being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, who is the image of the invisible God!
Over the centuries, we have become accustomed to calling the buildings we gather in churches. When people say they are “going to church,” what they really mean is that they are going to a gathering of believers which takes place in a building. Instead of calling it a church building it is easier to just call it the church. Even when instructed about the true nature of the Christian church, it is hard to break the habit of calling the building the church. That is unfortunate. Sometimes the area of the building where the worship takes place is even called the Sanctuary, as if it is some holy place where worship can only happen.
If one good thing comes out of this crisis, I hope and pray that we can once and for all put behind us the concept that God lives in a physical building. Even in the old testament, King Solomon of Israel, who had just dedicated the marvelous temple to the Lord in Jerusalem made this declaration:
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built! (1 Kings 8:27) NASU
It is convenient that there are many nice and even beautiful buildings available for us to meet in, which also are a great benefit to those who could never afford such comforts on their own. At the same time, we can become too dependent on the atmosphere we create for worship. It is easy to forget that our God is everywhere as well. The Early Church knew this as they met from house to house, sharing in the fundamental and bedrock reality of the Christian Faith, the Love of God!
Now that we are learning to not take for granted the face-to-face fellowship that can happen in buildings dedicated for that purpose, let us determine to never return to “business as usual.” We are important to one another and to God where ever we are. We do not meet out of tradition, or fear of punishment. We absolutely need one another as much or more than my hands and feet need my heart and head!
The physical buildings and programs we witness in them are only useful if they serve the purpose of helping us build up one another in Christ! In this way we become the Light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hid, showing others the way out of darkness and into His marvelous Light!
When my wife and I plan to take a road trip we usually pack 2 full size pieces of luggage with extra clothes, books to read, and any personal items we might need. Also we take along a cooler with drinks, bread and snacks, my camera bag, a laptop computer, extra shoes, pillows, jackets and even a small toaster oven for the motel room. We do like our creature comforts while on vacation!
But when Jesus sent the 12 apostles forth to proclaim the Kingdom He told them to travel light. He also said to them, “Freely you have received, freely give.” Later, Paul told the people at Ephesus that he worked with his hands to support himself and his team, so he too could freely share the message God had given to him. He remembered the words of the Lord Jesus, “that it is better to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:33-35).
Paul’s concern was always to not be a burden to the believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:6-10) During this Covid-19 crisis, I wonder if we could seriously think about how we could follow the examples of the 12 apostles, and later the 72 that Jesus sent forth. We too can travel light in our call to follow Him. (Matthew 10:7-10, Luke 10:1-4). I believe we could dramatically cut expenses that require so much of our time and effort to finance, in order to focus more on the real work of sharing Christ in creative and practical ways. At the same time this could relieve everyone from burdens that perhaps Christ never asked us to bear.
During this time, my heart goes out to churches in this country and all over the world. Is it possible that we have allowed ourselves to become more vulnerable than necessary by the accumulation of debt through trying to keep up with one another in grand programs and building expansions? The Gospel of Jesus Christ is costly in terms of love and devotion to Him and to one another. But should that cost include enterprises that actually distract us from this devotion?
How can we forget how freely we have received from Him, and not be willing to freely give away the sweet Good News of the Kingdom of God?
First the Kingdom part 31, “Freedom”
Today’s topic has long been a favorite of mine. I grew up in the sixties, when many young people were seeking freedom from the constraints of society. The civil rights movement, and the Vietnam war was largely in the news and pressing on our minds. The pressure to get a job and find a career also was one more thing to infringe upon a young persons sense of freedom. All of this gave birth to the hippy movement with its search for freedom of thought and action, expressed powerfully in the music of that time.
While all of this appealed to me back then, it was not long until I realized the search for freedom can become a trap and form of bondage in itself. It was at this point that I cried out to God and finally found the freedom that I really and truly needed the most.
The thread of this topic goes all the way back to the beginning. Adam and Eve in the garden knew freedom as it had not been known since before the fall. And yet, they had one restriction placed upon them. That one restriction must have weighed on their minds and distracted them from what they already could so easily and freely enjoy at the hand of their Creator.
Think of it! They had the very priviledge of walking and talking with God in the cool of the day! And yet they were not truly free internally. They wanted their independance from their Creator, to decide for themselves what was good or evil, right or wrong. This led to the loss of their external freedom in a sense as they were thrust out of Paradise.
The pursuit of freedom to fulfill our own fleshly desires has always brought us to bondage in the end. Yet God in His great love for His creation has always had a plan. He chose Noah to preserve the human race from the judgment of the great flood. He chose Abraham to begin a great family of faithful believers through whom He would teach the world of His ways.
When they found themselves under the oppression of Egypt, they cried out unto the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He raised up Moses to deliver them, and through mighty signs, wonders and miracles freed them from slavery. Yet, even as he was leading them out of Egypt it was discovered that much of Egypt was still in them!
After 40 years a new generation would take on the task of conquering the Land of Promise. Jehovah had intended for this nation to become a kingdom of priests, but the majority rejected this priviledge, which was accepted by the tribe of Levi. He also wanted to be their King, but they wanted an earthly king instead. The true freedom of living fully in the Kingdom of Heaven would be a long way off.
By the time of the New Testament, they had been conquered and occupied by Babylon, Greece and finally Rome. But many continued to cling to the promises from God through His prophets, that a glorious time would come, where all nations would look to them to be taught the wonderful ways of their God. In Nebukanezzers dream, it was revealed to Daniel that the power of all previous kingdoms would be destroyed by their Messiah, depicted as a Great Rock descending from the Mountain of God!
From this they envisioned a great military leader who would crush the power of their oppressors, not a humble Lamb who would offer His Life for their sins. When the angel told Joseph of Christ’s birth, he said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”
Then Jesus began His public ministry. Instead of raising an army, He urgently called for the people to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. This was the very same Kingdom that Daniel referred too when He said, “In the days of these kings, the God of Heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed!”
However, His description of this Kingdom was not like what most had pictured in their minds. In His primary claim of fulfilling the scriptures, He read from Isaiah 61:1-2.
(Luke 4:14-21:) Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” NIV
In Leviticus 25 we are told that every 50th year was to be a time of restoration and freedom, known as the year of Jubilee. The inscription on our Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is a reference to this year as written in Leviticus 25:10:
“proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”
We don’t know how many times in the history of Israel this year was observed, but by the time of Christ it must have been long overdue! In any case, the people in His home town were outraged by His claiming to be the Messiah and that He would be the one to declare the year of jubilee!
He would continue to describe a Kingdom that was not like any other kingdom. Its rulers would be servants, rather than lords. It would be a realm where compassion and love ruled. It was one that you could not even tell when and from where it was coming. It would be a domain where God would change stony hearts into warm and tender hearts. He would write His laws into their hearts and minds, and all would know Him!
He did not just come to save His people from Rome, but to save them from their sins. The freedom that He came to bring was true freedom for them to live as God had planned for them from the beginning. In fact, the root word for His Name in Hebrew actually means, “to be open and free.”
God cares for the whole person, spirit, soul and body. He also cares about our physical circumstances, but the freedom He brings starts inside of us. We are truly changed from the inside out. This becomes evident as our circumstances often change because of changes in our behavior. The law of love that is written on our hearts and minds guides us in our decisions, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to follow through with those decisions!
John 8:31-32: To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” NIV
So hearing, receiving, understanding and following the truth is critical to obtaining and maintaining freedom. Is it possible to be a Christian and have your sins forgiven, but still not live the full, abundant life and in the fulness of the freedom that Christ has brought us? It would seem so. As believers our justification is finished, but our sanctification is on going.
While it is crucial for us to believe Jesus when He said that the time for the kingdom had come, it is equally important to believe Him when He said there is more to come! We are being changed from glory to glory!
Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians of this battle we are waging against evil. He also wrote this in his letter to the Galatians:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)
While people at that time were trying to bring them under the law of circumcision, I would suggest that a great number of things are attempting to enslave us today!
He continues, Galatians 5:13-26: You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. NIV
The Thread of Freedom runs through the entire bible, beginning in Genesis
The great struggle against slavery is depicted in Exodus, with Moses leading his people to freedom
The freedom won by Moses was difficult to maintain, as the people were often unfaithful to God
Jesus came to win the final victory over the source of bondage — sin!
In the New Covenant we are free by the grace of God working from the inside out.
We are called to stand in His freedom by living and walking in the Spirit of God, bearing His fruits!
So hear we are, living, growing and learning of Him, being encouraged by these words of Paul:
Romans 12:1-2: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. NIV This is Kingdom life, this is true freedom!
And yet, there is one more point on standing fast in the Freedom that Christ has won for us: I personally have found that my freedom is related to the freedom of others. One of the best proofs we are truly living and walking in the Spirit is found in our concern for the freedom of others. True freedom is experienced as we share the love of God with others!
An excerpt from Charles Colson’s “The Body, Being Light In Darkness.”
In some ways, the story began in the town of Nowa Huta, Poland soon after World War II…..
“We need a church,” the workers said, “A place of worship.”…..
The Communists bought time, however, by nodding agreeably, “Fine, they said, “No problem.”
So several young Christians and a Polish priest nailed together two rugged beams and pounded the rough timber cross straight and solid into Polish soil to mark the site where their chapel would be built.
Soon, however, the authorities returned with a different verdict. “We are sorry,” they told the workers. “This space is needed for something else. You cannot build a church here.”
But the people wanted their church. Night after night they gathered around the cross. Priests offered mass, and the people sang and celebrated communion with one another and their Lord.
The authorities retaliated with water cannons, but this forceful baptism didn’t faze the faithful. Then the Communists tore down the cross, as if sundering its heavy beams would somehow cleave the people. But the citizens of Nowa Huta were determined, and in the morning the cross was once again stretching toward heaven for all to see.
This went on for years—the authorities tearing down the cross and the people restoring it. And in the midst of the struggle the people came to a realization that would steel their faith in a way that Communism could never steal their souls.
“The church is not a building,” they said to one another. “The church is us, celebrating the presence of our Lord among us! Praise be to God!”
Home Church Network
Another site that might be of interest to some of you adventuresome souls. Here you will find a wealth of inspirational resources that hope to bring glory to our Lord Jesus Christ, and encourage your deeper walk with Him!