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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Visibility

visibility

Privacy is valued highly in the Western world.  This is seen in expressions like the fences we build around our yards, and the curtains that we install on our windows.  We don’t like those who aren’t a part of us necessarily knowing what we are up to; not that we have anything to hide, but it just feels intrusive.  This is generally true of most people, but not everyone!  I worked with a friend for a few years who had a decorative concrete garden edging business.  There is one job we did that I will never forget.  We were working in the client’s front yard.  That day the neighbour across the road was out front with small children and was yelling at them for an extended period of time!  I felt so embarrassed for them!  When we are raising our voice with our children we try not to do it in public, and even in the house we think to close the windows so the neighbours don’t overhear us!

This cultural value that we hold impacts our faith as well.  We tend to view faith as a personal matter, and society asks us not to practice it in a public way so as not to make others feel uncomfortable or offend them.  Last Sunday, in our series on Acts, we looked at Acts 2:42-47.  In verses 46 and 47 it says: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  For a community of faith to have favour with all people, and for unbelievers to become saved and be added to their number, they were clearly not living isolated and private.  They had a visible, public faith!  What we see in the early chapters of Acts is a new community of believers where the believers were together and yet remained within the wider society.  This was in contrast to some Jewish sects of that time who fled society to live removed and withdrawn so as not to be tainted.  Such a community was the Essenes who lived out in the wilderness at Qumran along the Dead Sea.  We were privileged to visit this sight on our trip to Israel last September.  Here are a few pictures:

Notice the desert surrounding the excavations.  In contrast to the Essenes, the early Christians stayed in the cities and towns.  They understood Jesus’ call on their lives to be witnesses.  In praying for his disciples Jesus said, “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one” (John 17:15).  The words of Paul in 1 Cor.5:9-10 also come to mind for me: “When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. 10 But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that”.  Our temptation can be to cocoon and live a private, invisible faith.  But that is not an obedient faith.  To keep in step with King Jesus we need to follow him out into the broken world to find the lost.  The King is about expanding his Kingdom! 

There is also something interesting to note about Luke’s use of that word ‘favour’.  As Luke set out in the opening chapter of Acts, the book is about Jesus and his continuing works and teachings through his disciples.  In Luke’s gospel he uses this word of Jesus: “Jesus grew in favour with man and God” (Lk 2:52).  The early church was looking like Jesus!  As we dare to be on mission for Jesus, although we will likely experience some opposition, we will also come into favour with people who’s hearts are ripe for Kingdom harvest!

 

 

Only God Could Do That!

Northern Lights colours

The Aurora Borealis (a.k.a. Northern Lights) were out in spectacular brilliance last night!  My wife and I stood outside and watched for 10 minutes as the green lights danced and waved across the sky.  We have seen them before, but never in multi-colour, so when we saw some red as well we were super excited!  The song “God of Wonders” came to my lips.  The sky was filled with nighttime light that stretched across continents.  Only  God could do that.  Man’s best attempt to inspire awe with nighttime light (grand fireworks displays) pales in comparison.

In our study of Acts, last Sunday we reached the narrative of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41).  When we read parts of Scripture, especially familiar texts, we tend to breeze through it and fail to be awed like we ought to.  Much of Scripture describes for us only things that God can do; these Scriptures ought to inspire awe in us.  Details within the Pentecost narrative ought to fill us with amazement.  I want to consider one such detail for this blog post.

Let’s consider the main speaker-Peter.  In the gospels we see he is both impetuous and cowardly.  He lets uncontrolled anger steer him (i.e. cutting off an ear in the Garden of Gethsemane-John 18:12), and makes impossible promises (Luke 22:31-33).  After his boastful declaration of undying loyalty, he denies Christ three times in history’s greatest betrayal (Luke 22:54-62).  Do you remember what Jesus told Peter in Mt.16:18? “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”  Jesus knew that he would transform this man into a steady force.  In the Pentecost narrative we see the fulfillment of that prophecy.  Peter preached the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit and 3,000 people were saved!  Jesus’ words were not a prophecy that Peter would be the first pope; His point was that Peter would be the tool that Jesus used to begin building his church.  Was Peter of Pentecost the same person as the man we read about in the gospels?  No!  This extreme makeover was something only that God can do!  He was the same person only in name.  But the Holy Spirit transformed him into a completely different person!

In Christ we are new creations (2 Cor.5:17)!  If you don’t feel or look like somebody different than your old self, you are not living in the Spirit.  The message of the book of Acts is that we are tools Jesus wants to use to continue building His church, but we can only do that as the Holy Spirit fills us and works through us.  May you seek the Spirit’s filling often (Eph.5:18), and keep in step with the Spirit (Gal.5:25).  Then we will live with supernatural power to fulfill our call to be witnesses to King Jesus.  May others marvel at our Kingdom representation and provide us the opportunity to declare that it’s only something that God can do!

 

A Cautionary Tale

caution

Be careful!  A regular refrain that comes out of a parent’s mouth.  That warning lacks punch without an accompanying illustrative story.  A cautionary tale will get a child to think twice before engaging in a risky activity.  “I wouldn’t do that; do you know what happened to Jimmy when he did that?”

Last Sunday we finished the first chapter of Acts as we continued in our new sermon series: Kingdom Builders”.  It is interesting to consider that there may be a cautionary tale embedded in the opening chapter.  At the very beginning of the book (v.8) Luke reports how the marching orders that King Jesus gave his followers was to be his witnesses.  The direction for the rest of the book was set in that; we can expect to see the disciples going out and being witnesses for Jesus.

Later in the opening chapter  Luke records the horrible details of what happened to Judas Iscariot (vs.16-19).  Why would God inspire Luke to include this?  Could it be that God is providing us with a cautionary tale of one who was anything but faithful to Jesus. God is warning his people not to take our relationship with Jesus lightly or let love of the world distort our thinking.

Life is not lived in a vacuum.  We need to recognize that we are in a daily spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12).  If we are not vigilante then we are letting our guard down against the Enemy of our souls.  Repeatedly in Scripture we are warned to stand firm (active action) lest we fall (i.e. Col.1:23, Eph.6:11, Heb.3:14, Eph.6:13).   Just as Judas’ position (Acts 1:17) had not meant that he was above temptation, so those in leadership positions today need to remember that no one is safe from the temptation of the evil one.  No position guarantees success.  So, what measures do you have in place to ensure that you stand firm in your faith and will be a faithful witness for Jesus?

Once in a while we need a cautionary tale to keep us on the straight and narrow.  We will get those on occasion throughout our time in Acts.  However, in contrast, we can look forward to many inspirational stories in Acts that will give us hope and encouragement of the incredible Kingdom fruit God can bear through us if we are faithful witnesses.

A King and His Kingdom

King Jesus

I grew up with a wonderful Christian allegory trilogy called: “Kingdom Tales”.  I don’t receive commission, but I do highly recommend it!  (Here’s one place you can find it: http://kingdomtales.com/ )  They were exciting stories of Scarboy escaping from Enchanted City to Great Park and coming to learn about the King.  Scarboy receives a new name, HERO, and is sent back to Enchanted City on mission by the King to save more orphans from the Enchanter.  Brilliant and riveting!

Those tales of the Kingdom were just an allegory, but this Fall at Riverbend Church of God we are reading true tales of the Kingdom of God as we spend time in the New Testament book of Acts!  We kicked off our sermon series, “Kingdom Builders”, this past Sunday.  In the first eleven verses of chapter 1 the direction is set for all that will follow.  Jesus spends time for 40 days with his disciples after his resurrection talking to them about the Kingdom of God (v.3).  When the disciples ask him about a timeline (v.6) he responds that time is none of their business (v.7).  Instead what their concern is is the role they get to play in advancing the Kingdom by being witnesses (v.8)!  Then King Jesus is taken up into heaven (vs 9-11).

Even though he is absent in a literal, physical, visual sense, he is actually very present physically through the indwelling Holy Spirit in each believer globally!  We see this as the disciples carry on the works and teachings of Jesus.  We see the same things in Acts as we do from Jesus in the gospels (exorcisms, healings, raising the dead)!  Acts will challenge us with the call to also be Kingdom Builders, just like the disciples in the early church were.

Jesus is not an absent King.  Christ is now reigning as Lord at God’s right hand (Heb.1:3- “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.”)  He is extending his reign and rule as people everywhere acknowledge his Lordship and step into the protection and provision of his Kingdom!  It is a beautiful thing to witness the power of his Kingdom at work: seeing broken lives made new; seeing people leave old ways of thinking and living and finding life and freedom by stepping into new ways of love and forgiveness and looking to the interests of others; seeing people find the joy and peace of acceptance and value in a God-given identity rather than allowing other human beings to have power over us by granting acceptance and giving us identity.

Is Jesus your King?  Are you living in the Kingdom of God?  There is no greater adventure, no greater security, and no greater hope to find elsewhere.

 

Tic, Tic, Tic.

Image result for clocks

Tic, tic, tic, tic, tic, tic… For those familiar with the ticking clock before the digital age changed all that, there was something very rhythmic and soothing about the sound as it especially had a way of lulling you to sleep at night.  It had a similar effect as a mother’s heart beat for her sleeping baby on her chest. Alternatively, have you ever watched the countdown of the digital clock on the stove? It can be mesmerizing as it’s very rhythmic. Even the cursor on our computer screen flashes rhythmically. Get those rhythms out of sync and timing gets skewed and they become annoying.

As the summer winds down from a more relaxing pace we find our rhythms are a bit out of sync. We struggle to adopt regular bedtimes, regular eating habits, regular devotions etc. In the created order God has established regular rhythms of time, of seasons and of provision. In Psalm 104 we are told that in His provision for the creatures of the sea that if God turns away from providing their food they are dismayed. Is it not the same for man? We think that we take care of ourselves but it is in the regular rhythm of time and seasons that we are provided with our provision. We are so used to this rhythm that we can take it for granted.

The most important rhythm in our lives is being in sync with our Father in heaven. Do we let our rhythms of spending time with him get out of sync more often than naught? When we do are we dismayed? Of all the rhythms to keep in constant sync it is the one with our heavenly Father as it provides for us the stability that we need when other rhythms are not.

Tic, tic, tic, tic. How’s your rhythm with God?

 

 

 

 

You May Be The Answer To Your Own Prayers!

answered prayers

Prayer.  One of the grand mysteries of life.  If you have ever prayed to God and seen him answer a prayer you know what I am talking about.  Just stop and think about that.  We, who are teeny tiny created specks in an unfathomably huge and expanding universe, are able to communicate with and relate to the King of that Universe!  Ridiculous!  And yet that is truth.

On Sunday mornings in July we are working our way through the book of Ruth.  At present we are 3/4 of the way through.  We are at the point where we can look back and see how things have developed and how plot lines relate to each other in bringing resolution to the grand conflict of the story.

One grand theme is Naomi’s emptiness and how God is going to fill her up (Ruth 1:21- “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty”).  Naomi tries to convince her daughters-in-law to return home and start over with new husbands so that they don’t experience the same emptiness of life that she is being beaten with.  She expresses that remarrying is the best route forward and that God will do this for them (Ruth 1:9-“May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.”).

Ruth was the only daughter-in-law who clung (1:14) to Naomi and accompanied her home to Bethlehem.  In chapter 2 God provided for the women by leading Ruth to the glean in the fields of a relative of Naomi’s, Boaz.  Boaz was generous in taking extra measures to provide abundantly for the women.  Fast forward to chapter 3.  Here we see that Naomi seizes upon a providentially given opportunity.  Naomi recognizes that the harvest is ending and the possibility of capitalizing on Boaz’s favour is fast disappearing. Her prayer in chapter 1 was that God would bless Ruth with the security of another marriage.  At that point her perspective was that God would accomplish this.  Now she sees that Boaz seems to be a good candidate.  And tonight he’ll be winnowing barley on the threshing floor, and sleeping out there alone.  In this scenario, God has provided the possibility for Naomi’s prayer to be answered; a marriage proposal can be made.  But stop and think about these circumstances.  Naomi wasn’t waiting for a mate to find Ruth; She took the initiative.

Does this have any spiritual application for our lives?  I think it does.  Naomi “models one way in which divine and human actions work together: believers are not to wait passively for events to happen; rather, they must seize the initiative when an opportunity presents itself”.  This is the tension of the life of faith.  We are instructed to wait upon the Lord.  But I don’t think that means waiting idly by for something to happen.  Waiting upon the Lord means having an internal posture of faith and trusting God and trying to listen and discern where he might be at work.  This means that we understand that sometimes God presents the opportunity but we must step out in obedience or faith to partner with him in being the answer to our own prayers.  In the book of Ruth we see that God acts IN Naomi’s actions.

Prayer is a mystery.  There is no formula for us to manipulate.  Sometimes prayer moves God.  Often it changes our hearts and minds without any change to the outward circumstance, but that makes all the difference.  Always prayer attunes our hearts and minds to God’s.  And this means that sometimes we will be able to see where God is moving and working and calling us to join him to be the answer to our own prayers.