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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Where Or Where Could It Be?

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Have you ever lost anything of value that kept you looking even as it seemed hopeless? And when you found it how happy you were? If you had involved others in the search they were happy that it was found as well. If you haven’t found it, how your mind keeps going back trying to think where it is?

Years back helping to supervise a class on a field trip one of the students wandered off and I was sent to see if he was waiting at the spot that was arranged beforehand. Sure enough there he was looking rather sheepish. He was a curious sort and had wandered off looking at something that had caught his eye.

A pre-arranged spot made it easy for me but for the shepherd of sheep there are no pre-arranged spots to wait. Left to their own devices a sheep keeps on wandering until it is found, joins another herd or is hunted down by a predator. For the shepherd this is part of the role as a protector and provider for his sheep. He cannot afford to lose any and will continue to search until he knows what happened to it.

As believers we are a found people. We find comfort in being found but may soon forget that at one time we too were lost. We may not treat others who have not yet committed to a relationship with Jesus as being lost and in need of being found, preferring to stay with the found. There are many today who are wandering and need us to be as a shepherd to them, to find them and bring them into the Kingdom.

We can be comforted that Jesus, our Good Shepherd, knows where we are all the time but until the lost hear and obey His voice calling them into the Kingdom they remain lost. And as we wander off occasionally are we in tune with the voice that calls to us to return?

We need the heart of the Shepherd so that we do not merely associate only with the found but to go out and seek that which are lost. Every one of us in the Shepherd’s eye is a sheep that is important to the Kingdom. The Kingdom does not want to lose any as all have a role to play. The Father’s desire is to not lose any of the sheep and He along with the angels rejoice at every one that is found as Jesus taught in the parable of the lost sheep—-  “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 5:7 This is part of the identity of who we are as His children, a sheep gone astray that has been found. The Lord and the angels rejoiced as we each came into the Kingdom. That ‘they rejoiced’—well now, that IS something to think about.

Shepherds and Sheep

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The mention of ‘shepherd’ in scripture ranges from 40-58 times depending on the translation not including the plural and other forms of the word. The mention of ‘sheep’ occurs 189 times. Given the sheep raising of the region that the biblical account is written in it should not surprise us that the imagery of shepherd and sheep is used to describe the human condition.  

The best known scripture of the shepherd of course is the 23rd psalm which resonates with all because it is comforting. It provides for us a good understanding of just what the shepherd does for his sheep and by extension what the Lord Jesus does for us as our Good Shepherd.

Out in the fields the shepherd, because they are often on the move from one place to another, is provider, protector and guide. He ensures green pasture is found so that the sheep can graze and rest. He protects not only against predators but also serves as the vet. He knows each sheep intimately. He leads or guides them with his staff as sheep cannot be driven like cattle. Without the shepherd, the sheep can get into all kinds of trouble. Cattle can be left to their own devices; sheep cannot unless they are in a pen.

For those of us who live on the flat prairie there is a tendency to wonder just what kind of trouble sheep could possibly get into. However, the terrain of the biblical sheep is hilly with deep ravines and crevices that they can fall into. Sheep have been known to be found in the few trees that are there in an otherwise barren landscape. Sheep are not obedient unless the shepherd with his staff prods, pushes and comforts in times of stress. When used to describe the Israelites these are metaphors for the pitfalls that humanity is prone to and how the Israelites often lived their lives, going from one crisis to another needing provision, protection and guidance from the Lord God much as the sheep do under the care of a pastoral shepherd.

As Jesus went throughout the cities, and villages He was filled with compassion for the crowds who were harassed and helpless, “like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) He told his disciples to pray for labourers for the harvest. These were people who needed a shepherd, Jesus yes but also for other believers to lead the people to salvation. Jesus is the Good Shepherd but He couldn’t humanly get to all who needed Him so others were needed to help shepherd the people.

We also need shepherds in our lives, to provide, to protect, to guide. Parents fulfill this role when we are children but as we go out on our own we still need shepherds as we too can wander aimlessly unaware of the ravines and crevices that we can fall into, traps set by the evil one in the hopes of keeping us away from God’s blessings. Even as we are shepherded we can at the same time shepherd others. Some are content to be the sheep but Jesus looks for shepherds to serve as provider, protector and guide. However, we must not forget that first and foremost we must learn from the Good Shepherd himself.

Give Life while you live life!

Northern Lights colours

As much as I hate to admit it, summer seems to be winding down.  I have so enjoyed my time spent outdoors–soaking up the sun, watching some beautiful sunsets, and enjoying time with family and friends.  This summer has been extra special because I have really tried to embrace the challenge Pastor Chris gave us back in June–to Give Life to people around us. Pastor Chris encouraged us to focus on the verse from John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  All around us there are people who don’t know who Jesus is and therefore don’t experience the abundant life that He promises us.  They pack our groceries, pump our gas, help us when we are sick, live next door to us and may even live in our homes.  And they are living in a world that is often pretty lonely and cold.

But Jesus promises us that there is so much more to life than that.  The abundant life is a peaceful life, a settled life, a contented life, a life of freedom from worry.  And He wants us to give that life to others.

In Titus 2:7, we read, “And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind.  Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.”  This verse could be our anthem as we go out into the world and “Give Life” to the people we encounter.

So how do we do this on a practical level?  We can pray for the people we meet.  A writer once said that people may reject our message, oppose our arguments for Jesus, and despise us, but they are helpless against our prayers! In 1 Peter 4:7, Peter says, “be earnest and disciplined in your prayers.”  We all know people who have not yet said yes to Jesus.  We can give life to these people by praying for them.

In this same passage, Peter also says, “continue to show deep love for one another for love covers a multitude of sins.” v8.  When we show love to the people around us, they notice.  When we stop and talk to someone we don’t know–someone who serves us at the grocery store for example, and when we take an interest in their lives, remembering them each time we see them–that has an impact.  When people see us showing love, it can be a way of changing their behavior too.  When others see us living lives of generosity and kindness, maybe they will be moved to do the same.  When they see us treating others with respect and love, perhaps they’ll be similarly motivated.

The best weapon the church has to offer the world–except of course for Jesus–is our willingness and our desire to care for the needs of others.  That is really what giving life is all about.  It is about watching for the opportunity to see needs wherever we go, and then stepping into the gap and meeting them however we can.

Over this summer I heard so many encouraging stories of people giving life this way.  Babysitting for a family in crisis, helping in a medical emergency, buying food for folks in need, taking time to offer encouragement, talking with people and listening to their stories.  It was exciting to be a part of what felt like a movement in action!

Maybe you are reading this and thinking to yourself, “what’s so special about all of this? Isn’t this the way we are supposed to live when we follow Jesus?”  And of course if you are thinking that, you are right!  But do we?  Am I the only one who gets so caught up in my own world, that when I’m out and about I barely notice the people around me?  I don’t think I am the only one.  Even though we should be different from the rest of the world, are we always?

In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter writes that we are to be different because we are God’s very own possession.  I love the way the King James version calls us “a peculiar people”.  The world certainly sees us that way.  So as peculiar people, we can live out this calling by giving life to the people around us in small and big ways, as we live our lives.  That’s how it starts.  It ends with us bringing glory to God through Jesus Christ.

Lessons From The Pea Patch

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As I pick my abundant pea crop in different stages of growth I reflected over the 2 re-seedings that needed to be done. Only ten plants came up from the first planting of a hundred seeds, none with the second and the third filled in the gaps between the original ten. Although the third planting was from new seed all three were in the same soil, with the same nutrients and these later plants now responded to the timing in their DNA in producing their pods.

My musing reminded me of the parable of the sower. How like the gospel that we share with others. Those seeds that didn’t come up remind me of the spiritually un-awakened where the nutrients, God’s word does not penetrate at all and no growth occurs.  The seeds that came up responded to the nutrients, just as those who respond to the Word awaken from their dead state to grow and multiply, some more productive and others less so.

Believers are all seeds planted in good soil and watered by the Word. How they respond to the good soil depends on how alive they are within. Some respond well, others less so. However, unlike the dead pea seeds there is always hope that something in God’s Word through the working of the Holy Spirit will awaken the deadness within.

The question is, “What is the condition of my seed in this gardening season? Am I producing pods full of seed, half filled pods or do I lie un-awakened in the soil?”

Seek Ye First

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Our one son put down in writing, during one of our parent-teacher interviews this school year, that a goal of his is to work on his reading. But there are many days in which he fights us to read, and he’d much rather play I-pad than read.  And certainly he spends a disproportionate amount of time on the tablet.  Our actions betray our true goals.  His greater goal is to have fun with electronics over improving his reading.  I understand this is part of childhood growing up.  I merely share that example to illustrate for us the truth of what I intend to communicate in this blog post.  As we finished our sermon series “Investing Like Jesus” we recognized that in the Kingdom the greatest capital we have and the most important capital we should seek to grow is spiritual capital (a.k.a. knowing God).  Our heart wants to say that is the priority in our lives, however, our flesh often wins out and our choices and actions reveal a different value order!

Let me share some examples of what it could look like to use and leverage each capital for Kingdom sake.  I hope these examples inspire or challenge us, whatever the Holy Spirit wants to do in your heart!

Finances- the women supported Jesus with their means (Luke 8:1-3).  Do we see Kingdom causes as worthy of investing our financial capital in?  I recently heard of somebody with a million dollar annual salary, who gives $950, 000 to various causes and chooses to live on $50, 000!

Intellect/Ability- Do we use our skills to serve others when we hear of needs that arise that our skills set match?  We are thrilled for the woman in our church who is “crafty” and comes regularly to our weekly Kids Club to lead the children in craft time.  We are grateful for the few who share their skills for the upkeep of our church building.  I may not have the financial margin to support a missionary, but I can serve a missionary (and save her money) by sharing my ability to install baseboards in her home.

Time/Energy- People who use vacation time to go on missions trip is great example of seeking first the Kingdom.  On a more regular time scale, do we use much of our weekly time and energy on ourselves and our own households or do we dedicate weekly time to reach out and serve?  A practical example is offering a regular meal to university students or a single person.

Relational Capital-When we felt God lead us to register our boys at a different school I firmly believed it was a place God wanted me to invest. As often as I could during the school year I signed up to help out as a parent volunteer.  As I built up trust (relational capital) it has led to some cool opportunities to go into the religion classes and share some stories and pictures of Israel and talk about the Bible.  Do you pray for opportunities to leverage your relational capital to serve Kingdom purposes?

Whenever we faithfully hear and do as God directs us to with those four capitals the automatic result is growth of our spiritual capital.  We grow closer to the Lord and have learned to respond to the Spirit’s promptings, and this leads to Him trusting us with more and being able to use us in increasing measure!

So what about you?  What does your lifestyle reveal about what you’re truly seeking first?

 

People: Problems or Opportunities?

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In the fourth of the five sermons in our current series “Investing Like Jesus” we learned that Relational Capital is the second most important area of our lives that God expects us to faithfully manage.  That could be a startling realization if you’re not the type of person who tends to put people before tasks.  Generally speaking, how willing are you to put tasks on pause to make time for people interruptions?  What’s your reaction when your plans are derailed by relationships?  How willing are you to reshuffle your calendar because an invitation to a people gathering has been issued to you?  Our attitudes and reactions to those situations reveal where we truly rank that capital among the five.  Do we see people as problems or opportunities?

Even those who think they are people persons may be affected by being shaped in a society that idolizes individualism and independence.  When we do have tasks to do, many of us prefer to do jobs on our own instead of with people.  Or we find it hard to accept help from others and so we do jobs on our own instead of asking for help.  “Once it’s done we’ll have time for people.”  The problem with that line of thinking is that there is always another job to be done on our to-do list.  That results in us doing a postmortem at the end of the year and realizing we invested far too little time in our relationships!

Here’s the invitation: if we learn to see that people are top value in the Kingdom of God, our minds can be transformed so that our primary response to any task before us is who can I invite to do this with me!  It doesn’t have to be either/or.  It can be both/and!  The more intentional time I spend with people the more I grow our relational capital.

As we heard in the sermon Sunday, Jesus prioritized spending time with two groups of people: leaders and the lost.  We are called to be on mission for Jesus, and so we will be most fruitful if we follow Jesus’ pattern.  Love people like Jesus did.  Prioritize people like Jesus did.  He was never so busy that we read of him telling somebody to call back later.  Do you dare to live by Kingdom priorities?  What has to change in your life to properly value relationship?  If we begin to do that, we’ll be blown away by the amount of fruit that God will bear through us!

 

What do you do with your “stuff”?

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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.