Exploring Covenant and Kingdom

Discovering what relationship and responsibility are all about

We are all part of the “in” Crowd!

Isaiah 56:6 reads, “I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant.”

The Israelite people had always believed that they had a special, unique relationship with God.  They also believed strongly that clear boundaries existed that stipulated who was “in” and who was “out”.

If you were born of the line of Abraham, you were one of the chosen people and belonged to that special “in” group.  Anyone who was foreign born didn’t quite measure up.

The book of Ruth shows us however, that God does not care about birth or ancestry as much as He cares about commitment and obedience.

Ruth is a foreigner, a poor widow from enemy land.   And yet, God uses her to change the course of history.  She becomes the mother of Obed, who is the grandfather of King David, and an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

What do we learn from Ruth’s story?  We learn that God can use any one of us–no matter how weak, how poor, how insignificant we might look to the rest of the world.  God cares about all people, no matter where they were born or what color their skin might be.

We learn that we matter to God.  God’s hand is all over the events of this book and nothing in the lives of Ruth, Naomi, or Boaz escapes His notice.  God provides protection and provision of their daily needs to Ruth and Naomi.  And He does this for us too.  We need to be constantly watching for His hand touching our circumstances so that we can give Him the thanks and praise He is owed.

And we learn that God wants us to live selflessly–the way the characters in Ruth did.  Ruth cares for Naomi by putting her own needs aside.  Naomi cares for Ruth by ensuring her future protection.  Boaz cares for Ruth and Naomi by redeeming their property and by marrying the foreign widow whose future seems bleak at the beginning.

And God cares for us by giving them a child who would be the ancestor to Jesus Christ.

The book of Ruth begins with hopelessness.  But we see Ruth join with the people of God and turn her life completely around.  Isn’t this a picture of how we come to a faith as well?  We begin with no hope–outsiders, foreigners with no place in the family of God.  Ruth, the outsider from Moab,  laid herself and her pride down on the threshing floor before Boaz, and he became her kinsman-redeemer.  We too change our lives, when we lay down our pride and surrender to Jesus, our Redeemer.

 

 

 

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What do you do with your “stuff”?

stuff

How do you view the things you own?  Is it actually YOUR stuff?  Our current sermon series (“Investing Like Jesus”) has challenged that notion with the biblical truth that everything that we have is God’s; He’s simply given it to us to use or to manage on his behalf!  Jesus repeated likens the Kingdom of God to a landowner who has temporarily stepped away and entrusted his servants to run his household while he’s gone.  He will hold his servants accountable when He returns.

So what is the worldview that you actually live out of?  What you believe affects your decisions, attitudes, and behaviours.  If you feel like you worked hard for it and invested your money on it, then you’ll likely be quite protective and possessive of your stuff, hesitant to share it.  However, if you understand that anything and everything you have is a gift from God then sharing becomes much easier.  That worldview allows you to live with an open hand and to live with much less anxiety because God gave and God can give again.

Thus far in our sermon series we’ve looked at how followers of Jesus aren’t called to give a mere 10% tithe, but rather to live generous lives and ask God for direction on how he wants us to use the finances he’s given us.  We’ve considered how the intellect and abilities that God has given us isn’t meant for our own benefit but that we might have Kingdom impact by serving others.  And thirdly, we considered our physical capital-the time and energy we have.  Do we waste time and energy on the non-urgent and the unimportant, or are we learning to maximize the time we have and focus our energy on both the urgent and important?  How do we even define the urgent and important?  In worldly terms or in Kingdom terms?

Where possessions fall in your definitions of the capitals is inconsequential.  You could consider them part of financial capital because you purchased the thing and you can convert stuff back into money.  I thought our “stuff” would be appropriate to talk about as a follow-up to our physical capital sermon.  We can make an impact on the lives of others simply by sharing the things we own with them.  We may have the heart and desire to help someone but we don’t have the time or energy.  Our stuff can still meet their need as somebody else may have the time but not the resources to complete the job.  In sharing you express that you understand the purpose and expectations of God’s gifts to us.

I want to close with a couple of examples to stimulate your thinking.  My household is a single vehicle family.  It works for us most of the year.  However, when we have family come to visit we don’t have vehicle capacity to do trips.  The last couple of summers when that scenario became reality we were considering renting a vehicle for a few days to solve that problem.  But when friends of ours, who have a second vehicle, got wind of our situation they insisted we borrow their vehicle for a few days while our family was in town.  What a blessing!

Recently in our church we had a request from somebody needing help moving.  A few people were able to volunteer time and energy.  Another person didn’t have the time but offered to lend their truck for the day while they were at work.  That act of using their possession to serve this need made it possible to accomplish the move in a single trip instead of multiple trips!

Lending comes with a risk.  Your stuff could be damaged.  Is it worth the risk?  That is what holds some people back.  That also reveals that you likely value things or money more than people.  When you hear of a need do you think of what you own and whether you can help out?  How freely do you lend?  There is greater joy in serving and sharing with others than in keeping stuff for ourselves.  That is the Kingdom pay-off! In fact, when we share our stuff our relational and spiritual capital multiply exponentially.  Those are worth more than pristine possessions that sit on our shelf or only serve us.  Matthew 25:21 says, “ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”  If we prove ourselves faithful with the stuff that God has entrusted to us, we shouldn’t be surprised when he entrusts us with more that we can make even greater Kingdom impact.

Serving self or the Kingdom?

Serving or self serving

Self-serving is not a name you want to be called!  That would indicate that people’s perception of you is that what you are doing is only to benefit yourself.  Bob Dylan’s classic song-“Gotta Serve Somebody” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CwHby-YTNo ) – fits nicely with this week’s theme in our sermon series Investing Like Jesus.  The chorus in that song reads:

“But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”

According to the Bible that is ultimate reality; You are either serving the Kingdom of darkness or the Kingdom of Light (i.e. Col.1:13).  We would probably prefer to think that in self-serving we are merely serving ourselves, but ultimately are we accomplishing God’s purposes or not is the true question!

In our current sermon series we are being reminded that we are servants in God’s household, entrusted by the King to use for His glory all that we have.  For the purposes of this series we are considering five areas to represent our whole lives- money, ability, time, relationships, and soul/spirit.  This past Sunday we looked at intellect and ability.

When we use our ability and intellect we are by default serving somebody’s purpose.  Do you believe that?  That will impact our posture and approach to life.  And do you believe it really matters?

The world encourages self-serving.  That is the prevalent spirit in society now, as it always has been.  Do you remember the dispute the disciples had about who is the greatest?

Mark 9:33-35:
“Then they came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

An acquaintance of mine shared the following reflection on those verses.  I think he says it well: “I notice that Jesus does not teach us to avoid greatness. Instead, He redefines what greatness is. Greatness is not having more stuff or having more authority than others, but instead to serve all – that is everyone. You can earn a lot of money serving others, I suppose. But the greatness is not that you have much wealth and power, but the greatness is in how many people you helped and how much you helped them.

As a young man growing up in this culture, I had an unspoken message drilled into my head: I go to school to get good grades, so I can get into a good college, so I can get a good job, so I can make a lot of money. But, I have learned in my late 20’s from studying Martin Luther that the point of education is that the more I learn, the more I can help people. Maybe, just maybe, I would have been more motivated in school had I known what I was learning was not for myself but for others. I would not sit in front of my algebra or social studies homework wondering “when will I ever use this?” Maybe I would know all that stuff that I learned helps me help people today – and I can help them even better when I know my stuff and I know what I am doing and I’m thinking and communicating clearly.

Maybe knowing that it’s not all about me and it’s about a higher calling would make all the difference in how I live. I think this is what Jesus was getting at when He said “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

The Poverty Of Self-Sufficiency

self sufficiency

Doesn’t independence feel great?!  Not having to rely upon others is such a release of stress.  That is certainly one of the highest values espoused by the world.  As evidenced by the quote above, that spirit of independence isn’t anything new.

But is there a danger in self-sufficiency?  The Bible would tell us so!  Jesus’ letter to the church in Laodicea in the book of Revelation is a great example of this:  “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev.3:17).  Self-sufficiency is rooted in the age-old sin of pride and independence that we see in Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden!  Satan’s temptation was that they don’t need God to tell them right and wrong, that if they eat of the fruit their eyes would be opened and they could know such things for themselves (Gen.3:5)!  We were created for relationship with God.  We were created for dependence, not independence.  He desires to be our Heavenly Father who cares for us.

Week one of our new sermon series “Investing Like Jesus” focused on the money that God entrusts to us to steward.  If self-sufficiency (independence) is the highest goal of life then money (financial capital) is the most important thing to gain.  That’s what the world teaches us, doesn’t it?  It calls us to make all that we can so that we can be secure and enjoy life.  WE are the centre and purpose of life.  The Bible paints a very different picture and challenges us to re-prioritize the place of money in our lives.  Money is not to be an end in itself, but rather a tool to be used to bless and serve others (and ultimately leveraged for the Kingdom’s sake)!  Paul states it like this in 2 Corinthians 8:13-14: “ Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. 14 Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.”

What is to be the highest priority in the life of a believer?  To seek first the Kingdom of God (Mt. 6:33)!  If we do this, Jesus promises that our Heavenly Father will take care of all our needs.  Some peoples’ wrong assumption is that this means that God will make us self-sufficient.  This certainly can’t be the case.  If anybody was sold out for the cause of Christ it was the apostle Paul and examining his life we see that that promise certainly didn’t mean self-sufficiency!

Phil.4:11-13 is very revealing in regards to this: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength”.

Mike Breen’s comments on this are helpful: “Paul’s life wasn’t filled with constant financial abundance, and neither should we expect ours to be.  Paul had seasons when he was in need, and he also had seasons when he had plenty.  In ALL of those circumstances, Paul was able to function in his identity and calling, because of the strength that Jesus gave him.  When finances were low, he knew he still had other kinds of capital that were worth far more than mere money.  So whether he had plenty of money or very little money, he could still do everything he needed to do through the grace of God.”

What is your current mindset regarding money?  Is it healthy and biblical, or do you need to make some adjustments?  May God never have occasion to say to you or me, or our church, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

Faithfulness and Fruitfulness!

investinglikejesus

Faithfulness and fruitfulness.  Jesus and the rest of the New Testament talk a lot about those two.  Are those the measurements that we are intentionally mindful of as we live out our daily lives, or are we foolishly living according to other principles?  This past Sunday we began a new 5 part sermon series that is intended to stimulate greater faithfulness in our lives.

Think for a moment of the stories that Jesus tells.  What is a common feature of the villains in his parables?  How normal they appear!  Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  Who are the villains in that story?  The Levite and the priest!  There is nothing inherently evil about a Levite or priest; in fact, in real life they are supposed to be the “good guys”-the leaders of the faith community of the nation!  In that parable Jesus is reminding people that our actions and not our position or nationality is what matters to God!  Jesus’ stories should be a wake-up call to us that what passes as acceptable or even good in the world may not pass in the Kingdom of God!  The safe ground-doing nothing- is unacceptable in the Kingdom!  We need to be diligent in staying in tune with God’s heart and living accordingly.

In regards to faithfulness and fruitfulness, Jesus’ parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) has much to say to us.  Who is the villain in that story?  The servant who plays it safe and does nothing instead of risking and potentially failing!  The master in the story rips into that servant calling him wicked and lazy!  Whoa!  “We think doing nothing would be better than trying to invest and lose everything, but for Jesus, losing everything on a bad investment would have been better than doing nothing.  For Jesus, NOT investing makes you the villain!  Jesus’ stories teach us that heroes intentionally invest in the right things.  Jesus always vilifies the middle ground of playing it safe.”  There is much grace and room in the Kingdom for failure.  Failure is never a disqualifier in the Kingdom; apathy and disobedience are disqualifiers.

This sermon series will be a reminder to us of what a biblical worldview is.  We don’t own anything, but rather are simply entrusted by God with what He has given us.  He expects us to be faithful stewards of those things.  We don’t want to be the ones who are called wicked and lazy,  and so this series will be an incredibly important look at what it means to be faithful.  Often when we think of stewardship we think only of finances.  This series will also remind us that the “everything” that God has given us includes every area of our life that we can grow in and share.

Jesus often uses the language of exchange or investment when talking about the Kingdom (i.e. Parables of the Hidden treasure and the pearl- Mt 13:44-46; the cost of discipleship-Mark 8:34-37).  We are using that language of investment and economics as the framework for this sermon series.  Kingdom Economics.  As we learn to follow Jesus we want to invest like Jesus!

Put The Reins On Zeal!

reins

Horses are magnificent creatures.  Powerful creatures.  It is a remarkable thing that humans have been able to tame, domesticate, and control animals.  I suppose that authority or ability goes back to God’s commission in the Garden of Eden that humans have “dominion” over the animals (Genesis 1:28).  But I digress.  The method of controlling a horse (which is multiple times heavier and stronger than a human) is through the contraption of a bridle, bit, and reins.  The reins are the long, narrow straps used to a rider to guide or keep the horse in check.  The reining doesn’t squelch the horse’s actual power,  isn’t diminished but simply channeled and directed.  From that literal tool we get the imagery and metaphor of “reining” somebody in.  By that we mean to control, pull back into check somebody who is going outside of the set parameters.

Enter Sunday’s text of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-31).  In Saul we see somebody raging around with incredible power.  We see a man full of zeal and passion.  However, it is unbridled and misdirected passion.  Jesus reins it in.  Saul thought He was on God’s side and doing God’s work by trying to exterminate “the Way” (Acts 9:2) which Saul saw as a disease infecting Judaism.  Perhaps he saw himself in the same league as Phinehas (a priest, Aaron’s grandson, see Numbers 25) who’s righteous zeal led him to commit a double homicide of an Israelite man and a Moabite woman indulging in sexual immorality.  God did not judge him for that.  On the contrary, God was actually pleased with his zeal (Num. 25:11-13).

Are Phinehas and Saul on the same bandwidth?  A similar zeal is not enough.  Saul’s zeal was not informed by knowledge, and so he actually found himself working against God!  Saul refused to believe the disciples’ preaching that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that Jehovah accepted all people.  Saul’s zeal run amok ought to cause us to pause and ask whether our zeal and our passion comes from God or is driven by our own flesh or our ignorance of God and His ways.  There is a common misconception in churches that having passion for something qualifies you to serve in that role.  Or having knowledge or expertise or skill qualifies you to serve in leadership.  Neither passion nor gifts are sufficient in and of themselves.  They need to be combined with proper knowledge of God and His Word.  Repeatedly in Acts we have seen that being filled with the Spirit was the qualifications used for leadership (i.e. Acts 6:3).  We see the same qualifications named by Paul in his epistles.  Those who serve in roles of influence in the church need to have reached a significant level of spiritual depth.  They need to be people who are typically viewed as being filled with the Spirit because their lives overflow with the fruit of the Spirit.  In the life of Riverbend this is a great time to pause and think about this as we head into nominations time for Church Council vacancies and our Annual Meeting.  Let’s live with zeal according to God’s character and ways so that He doesn’t have to rein us in!

 

The Thrill of Obedience!

obedient dog

I’m not a dog guy, but the dog show industry is kind of fascinating.  It is quite amazing the ability that humans have to train various animals.  As I searched google images for “the thrill of obedience” quite a few pictures that showed up were of dogs performing (such as the one above).  All of the faces of dogs were smiling or something expressing even greater joy!  I spent a few minutes thinking about this.  Why are they happy?  Why do they do it?  I may be mistaken as an outsider, but I think it is for the simply joy of treats!  Throughout the training process, food treats are given as a reward for obedience.  And the joyful expressions of their masters when the dog does what it was asked and trained to do also impacts “man’s best friend”.  Show dogs are a fine illustration for the idea of “the thrill of obedience”.

This past Sunday we continued to see King Jesus building his Kingdom through the scattered disciples (Acts 8:4), and specifically through Philip in the narrative we looked at (Acts 8:26-40).  To recap for us, through narrative passages (like Acts) God SHOWS us how to live.  By identifying the characters, observing their actions, and noting the results of their actions we discern what God is saying.  So what do we learn from watching Philip?  One thing we can learn from him is the “thrill of obedience”.  When Philip scattered and landed in Samaria he did not hide away or try to start a quiet, new life.  Rather, he was obedient to the commission he learned that Jesus gave to his disciples, that included being his witnesses in Samaria (Acts 1:8).  In Acts 8: 7, 8, and 12 we see that Philip’s show and tell (miracles and preaching) resulted in many people seeing the Kingdom come in their lives (healings, deliverances, and eternal life).  Luke doesn’t tell us how much time had transpired for Philip in Samaria before the angel gives him a new assignment (v.26), but we can reasonably conclude that it is a much longer period of time than simply days.  What many would call “revival” was happening in Samaria.  In the midst of this period of great fruitfulness in ministry, the Lord speaks to Philip and gives him a strange assignment: to leave the revival in Samaria and go to the isolated desert road leading to Gaza.  Philip obeyed, with Luke reporting no resistance (in contrast to Moses in Exodus!).  Wouldn’t every fibre of our being resist and argue with God?  Why did Philip up and leave without a fight?  I would suggest it is because of “the thrill of obedience”.

If you have never experienced it, there is no greater thrill than being led by the Spirit, obeying and seeing God at work.  It is truly intoxicating!  The more you experience and see the correlation between obedience and fruitfulness, the more it becomes a lifestyle.  There is no greater joy in life than seeing God transform a life.  It draws you to keep obeying and keep listening!  So I would suggest that Philip had seen the fruit of lives changed in Jerusalem and in Samaria and so joyfully obeys God’s seemingly obscure call.  Now we see God use Philip to transform the life of the Ethiopian eunuch on the desert road.  Each changed life is a miracle and a thrill!  What happens next?  Verse 40 concludes the narrative this way, “Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea”.  God shows us through Philip what it looks like to seek first the Kingdom, and the fruit of listening and obeying the Spirit.

Here’s a convicting and challenging question to ponder: Does our passion or apathy in our faith walk directly correlate with our obedience or disobedience?

Praying Is Helping

praying for others

Last Sunday, after a 5 week pause for Advent, we picked up on our sermon series in Acts.  We covered Acts 8:1-25.  Verse 4 says, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went”.  Beginning in verse 5 Luke uses Philip as a specific example of what that looked like.  In Samaria Philip not only preached the gospel in the boldness of the Spirit, but also performed many miracles in the power of the Spirit.  This was particularly important in Samaria because for years the people there had been amazed and under the power of Simon the sorcerer.  If the gospel would have any relevance to them, they would need to see that it wasn’t just words but in fact this Christ who was being preached was even more powerful than the magic of Simon.

One of the truths of this passage, and the book of Acts as a whole, is that God spreads the gospel through displays of His power.  Do you believe that God continues to do that?  I do.  Hopefully you’ve experienced miraculous answers to prayers in your own life, but if not, most people have heard incredible stories from overseas missionaries.  It is one thing to believe in general that God still displays his power because not as much is on the line if God doesn’t come through.   It is quite another thing to put yourself out there and actually pray for others in person and see what happens.  What if we pray for a non-Christian and then our prayer isn’t obviously answered?  Won’t that give God a bad name?  Perhaps you’d rather not risk that and so in the name of “protecting” God’s reputation you don’t dare praying for others?

I recently read an interesting perspective on this that may change your mind.  Choosing not to offer to pray for others in need is selfish, faithless, and unloving, rather than protective.  Think of these analogies: “If an unbelieving neighbour was suddenly out of work, and you had some important connection that could get him a job, wouldn’t you make an effort to contact that person?  Or, if you knew someone with a serious illness and your father happened to be a famous doctor who specialized in treating that illness, wouldn’t you ask your dad if he would be willing to see your neighbour?  Or course, you would!  Who wouldn’t!  And who wouldn’t go to their Heavenly Father and ask Him to intervene for the same needy neighbour?”

Those are challenging words.  Could my failure to pray for others be unbelief, cowardice, fearfulness, and evidence of a lack of love for my neighbour?  Do you really believe that God is King?  If so, we should have no problem offering to pray for others.  I remember a couple years ago a pastor friend of mine shared about a transformation in his ministry.  It happened because believers began to have the courage to ask non-believing acquaintances what they would most like God to do for them, and then praying that for them.  And low and behold there was a substantial increase in answers to prayer and people moving towards a faith in God!  James tells us that we don’t have because we don’t ask (James 4:2).  I dare you to step out in faith and see if God doesn’t begin to reveal himself more often to others than you are experiencing now!