Exploring Covenant and Kingdom

Discovering what relationship and responsibility are all about

Category: kingdom

Ear Whisperer

See the source imageWe shake our heads, and tut tut at the pictures and stories we read about stripped store aisles of toilet paper, disinfectant wipes and water, the long line-ups well before the stores open, the impatience of shoppers to buy those things they think they may need in this current crisis all because of fear, a fear that inclines some to panic. Where does this fear come from? Certain fears are healthy; other fears drive some to do things we would have thought unthinkable only a few weeks ago. We have an enemy that drives those fears.

An enemy is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “one that is antagonistic to another especially one seeking to injure, overthrow, or confound an opponent, something harmful or deadly, a military adversary or a hostile unit or force”. The enemy described in parts of this definition we encounter occasionally but we also do have an enemy that assails us daily. How well do we know this enemy? Do we know his strengths, his weaknesses and his modus operandi? Are we aware that we can defeat him? Do we even believe that such an enemy exists?

He speaks with a language of his own since almost the beginning of time. He was present in the Garden of Eden, throughout history and speaks the same language at this very moment. He speaks in the language of lies and half truths. He is that voice that tells us that we are failures, that we are not loveable. In society he influences ideals, goals, education, commerce, false religion and thoughts. He is the ruler of this world even as God is Sovereign over it. Much of what is wrong in this world is a result of his rule. He influences every area of life if we allow him to. He accuses us through whispers in our ears and is bold enough to accuse us before our heavenly Father.

To defeat this enemy we first need to believe that he exists. Jesus knew and knows he exists and teaches us to employ the same resources against him that He did. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness after His baptism, satan used only the parts of scripture that advanced his objective. Jesus countered with the whole of scripture. We can do the same but we do need to know the Word. We have the armour (Ephesians 6:10-18) and we need to put it on daily. We need to pray to recognize the lies that we are told by this enemy. We can defeat him but we do need to know who he is and how he operates. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. Because he is a spiritual enemy his defeat comes through the spiritual power of God’s Word.

He is a defeated enemy but continues to spread his snares to those who are unaware of how he works. Don’t fear the lies but know the truth. We have the armour, we have the One who has fought the battle for us. AND we have the Manual, His instructions on how to fight this war. There is God, and there is satan. We need to choose one or the other as there is no neutral ground. Choose wisely.

Are You On The Right Road?

See the source image   In the days before road maps and GPS finding the road to your destination could be quite adventuresome as you followed the rather vague instructions that were given. You depended on approximate distances before taking a fork to the right or to the left and visual cues like, “Go past the wheat field on your right about a quarter mile, turn on to the winding road on your left and when you’ve come to the house with blue trim hang a sharp right and continue on for about another mile.” Trying this for the first time, the distance stated seems longer than it is and you wonder more than once whether you are on the right road. It’s only when you’ve arrived at the destination that you know for sure. If it’s not, you backtrack to see where you’ve made an error.

Faced with an eternal destination the road that we take to God depends on whose directions we follow. Jesus tells us to follow the narrow road, one that is so narrow that few find it. He also tells us that many take the wide road but that road leads to destruction. The world tells us there are many ways, follow my directions and you’ll get there. When it’s time for the final arrival if we’ve taken the wrong road we can’t just turn around and try again.

When God called Abram to leave his country and go settle in the land that He would show him He promised that “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3) Abram was blessed because he believed in God. The chosen people, the Jewish nation descended from Abram, later called Abraham. When Solomon dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem, he stated that foreigners would hear of Israel’s God and come to pray, that God would hear their prayers and answer them. Throughout Scripture we are reminded that salvation would come to the Gentiles through Christ.

Jesus, a Jewish descendant of Abraham, commissioned His disciples to make disciples of all nations, to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ Commission is inclusive of all people but exclusive in that His disciples are those who believe in Him and Him alone for salvation. Revelations 7:9 tells us that there will be a great crowd gathered from every nation and tribe and people and language before the throne and the Lamb showing that only God is God of all.

The narrow road that Jesus spoke of is the only road that leads to God and that that road is through Himself,  God’s Son, the world view Christians espouse. The wide road leading to destruction are all the other world views that claim to lead to God. Only one world view can be true and given that all of Scripture supports the view that God is interested in all nations, all people as evidenced in Jesus’ commission tells us that all roads do not lead to God.

The only question is, which world view’s road are you, am I, on?

What Is In Our Treasure Chest?

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What is the greatest thing that we treasure in life? Is it life itself, our children, the possessions that we own? What we treasure shows others what our priorities are.

In Matthew 13:44-46 Jesus describes the Kingdom of God being like a buried treasure, or a pearl of great value. If we discovered buried treasure or a pearl of great value what would our response be? We would most likely be very excited to have found it, dreaming of what it could do for us—-perhaps pay off our mortgage, send our kids to college, go on an extended vacation. After it’s all gone though, then what?

How excited are we that we can be a part of God’s Kingdom? It is a treasure that gives eternally but to gain this treasure we need to decide what to do about Jesus for without Jesus we cannot gain the greatest treasure there is, the God who promises an eternal life with Him.

For some God is a means to an end but to live a life worthy of Him we need to value Him above all else every day for the treasure that He is. Our greatest treasure is a God who desires a relationship with us, a God who loves us unconditionally, a God who sacrificed His Son so that we could have access to Him. A life with God lived this way is a life of love, a life where we need not be afraid, a life that is not controlling nor self-seeking. It is a life of forgiveness, of security and it is offered to us daily.

If we have not yet sought God as our greatest treasure to put into our treasure chest, what is stopping us? What needs to change in how we do life?

Who Are We, Really?

Image result for idintity

What makes you, you and me, me? What identifies us? Is it the logo on our shirts, the tattoos on our arms, the clothes that we wear? Is it the things that we have, the work that we do? Is our identity, who we are, more than skin deep?

Our identity comes from within and does not always match what is seen on the outside by others. More importantly our identity as believers in God comes from Him. It is this identity that matters and what should determine our success in life. When we see ourselves as God sees us we take our focus off of what others say we are to who we really are. We are the beloved of God, His children, His kingdom kids.

Christ dwells inside us and what that means is that we have the power to live life differently, to live as He did. Christ was able to accomplish what He did in his earthly life because He was secure in His identity as the Son of God. If we claim to have Christ within us it means that we have died to self, we have died to all that He died to on the Cross. It is not what we do that determines who we are but rather that what we do is determined by who we believe we are, what we believe our identify to be.

Scripture tell us that we are new creations. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away. Behold, new things have come.” 2 Cor. 5:17 As new creations we find our identity as God’s children putting aside believing all that the world says we are and need to be. When we forget who we are, we struggle to live a victorious life falling into old patterns that have caused us failure and pain. When we remember who we truly are, God’s beloved, and that Christ dwells in us we can do all things because with Him all things are possible.

Henry Nouwen has said, “You’re not what you do. You’re not what you have. You’re not what people say about you. You are the beloved of God.” It’s not the job you have, the possessions you own, nor the opinions of others that make you who you truly are. It’s who God says you are. As believers, who we truly are changes everything—how we feel about ourselves, how we treat others and how we live. So fellow believer, never forget who you truly are.

Where Or Where Could It Be?

Image result for searching for a lost item

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.

Seek Ye First

books-vs-video-games1

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?

 

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.”

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!

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?