Exploring Covenant and Kingdom

Discovering what relationship and responsibility are all about

Category: voice of God

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?

Too Busy

busy-full-calendar

“I don’t have time for that”.  “Let me check my schedule to see where I can squeeze you in”.  “I’m so tired, I can’t do another thing”.  “Nope.  Sorry.  I am way too busy to be able to do that”.  Perhaps you’ve said some of those things.  A friend of mine literally said this to me yesterday: “I’d love to do that but I’m too busy.  I can’t fit another thing on my plate.”  Perhaps you wrestle with guilt about having to say no to certain things.  How did we get to this point?  Busyness is an epidemic in the Western World.  The problem is that we think that with all the societal technological time saving advances we’re saving time, but the reality is we’re busier than ever because with the “extra time” we keep adding more things to our plate!

Last Sunday we looked at Acts 6:1-7.  Here we see the apostles dealing with a time management problem that has arisen.  Before when the church was 120 people, or even 3000 people after Pentecost, they seemed to have the capacity of doing everything themselves.  But as the church had continued to multiply explosively and reached probably somewhere in excess of 10,000 people (Acts 4:4 counts 5,000 MEN), they had come to the crisis point where it became obvious that they couldn’t provide leadership over all aspects of ministry anymore.  The problem that had arisen pertained to daily food distribution to widows (Acts 6:1).  How do the apostles respond?  They welcome the involvement of more leaders to take over that aspect of ministry.  Doing this will permit them to “spend [their] time teaching the word of God”(v.2).  They repeat it again, that the development of leadership is crucial so that “we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word”(v.4).

What can we learn from their example?  The first application I want to raise pertains to every follower of Jesus, not just those in leadership.  It is too easy to allow the tyranny of the urgent to squeeze out time in the Word and prayer.  Like breathing to the physical body so is prayer to the spirit.  It is essential.  Reading Scripture regularly to allow God to speak to us afresh and apply his truth to our situations is also essential.  The sooner we learn those truths, the sooner our lives will be grow in Kingdom fruitfulness.  From a human perspective spiritual disciplines can seem mundane and irrelevant.  But the supernatural mystery is that as we step into them we experience joy and power and wisdom we never dreamed possible.

 

The second application I want to make applies to leadership, but also in another sense to all followers of Jesus as we believe everybody has a ministry and is called to exercise the faith and gifts that God has given them.  It takes time to know with reasonable assurance what our gifts and calling are, but when we do know I believe that God expects us to build our ministry schedule around them.  Just as the apostles realized they had to set aside the good for the best, so we too need to be vigilante and ruthless to manage or time and calendars.  May the Lord grant that we be known as focused instead of busy.

 

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.

SIGNS FROM GOD

god_give_signs

 

Do you believe God wants to speak to you and partner with you to accomplish his purposes?  The Bible would argue that you should hold such a worldview!  On Sunday in our sermon series on Hebrews we covered chapter 11, probably the most well known chapter of the book; a.k.a. the Hall of Faith/Fame.  In it the author gives numerous examples of what a life of faith looks like, in order to encourage the original readers to have the same quality of faith that will allow them to persevere in their trials.

In addition to seeing the great heroes of the Old Testament that we would expect to see there, some uncommon people make the list too.  Moses’ parents make the Hall of Faith! Hebrews 11:23 says, “By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict”.  What the NIV translates as “no ordinary child”, many other versions (i.e.ESV) translate as “that the child was beautiful”.  This is noteworthy.  Whereas the NIV goes for the spirit of the law, others go for a more literal sense which sometimes can aid us in understanding more.  In this case, the NIV leaves us with a vague idea of why Moses’ parents knew he was special.  The other translations hint at the fact that it was something about his physical appearance that tipped his parents off.  This is consistent with the Greek translation of Exodus 2:2 which refers to extraordinary beauty.  Philo and Josephus ( 1st century Jewish philosophers and historians) both refer to this same aspect of Moses’ appearance and say that it was taken as a visible sign from God that he had great plans for Moses.  In regards to English translations of Ex.2:2 we have words that vary from “saw that he was a special baby”(NLT) to “saw that he was a fine child”(ESV) to “saw that he was beautiful”(NASB).  So we see that Moses’ parents therefore responded in faith to what God had shown them, rather than just hiding Moses in hopes that things would work out in the end.

Truly fascinating, if you ask me.  Now let’s zoom back out and think about the chapter as a whole.  I’ll re-ask the opening questions.  Do you believe God wants to speak to you and partner with you to accomplish his purposes?  I hope you answer that yes.  Because that is where the promised abundant life lies for us.  God can still speak through signs.  But on this side of Hebrews 11 we have the Holy Spirit that indwells us!  This is a far better thing than looking to the skies for signs!  We can learn to tune into the Spirit’s voice.  We can be certain of what he says.  As Paul says in Galatians, we are to keep in step with the Spirit.  This is a thing!  We can be conscious of His presence with us every day.  We can be led by Him.  He wants to partner with you.  This week!  There is no greater invitation we can ever receive than the one we have received from the King of the Universe to use us as his representatives!  Respond to Him and walk by faith.

 

Important Instructions

Airlines-Safety-Demonstrations

Instructions of incredible importance are always worth listening to.  The first time you flew you probably paid careful attention to the flight attendant’s demonstration of safety protocol.  Once you’ve become a routine flyer you cease to stop and listen to those instructions, as you already know all that you need to survive a drop in cabin pressure or a crash.  Unfortunately for us, that same ‘familiarity breeding contempt’ can become part of our faith if we aren’t careful.

The opening words of the letter to the Hebrews states that “God spoke to our fathers…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (1:1-2).  Hebrews calls us to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard (through the Son), lest we drift away” (2:1).  A unique feature of Hebrews, in the greater body of New Testament books, is that the author relies heavily upon Old Testament quotations.  This reliance was used because it would have been persuasive argumentation to the Jewish Christian readers who held the Scriptures in high regard.  Another unique feature is that when quoting the Old Testament the writer of Hebrews seldom acknowledges the human writer of that text.  Instead whoever penned Hebrews went to great effort of removing the intermediary and instead emphasized that God spoke those words to the people (see for example 3:7 and 4:4).  What can we learn from this?  That when God speaks through a human agent we must consciously filter out the vessel and listen earnestly to what God is saying to us.  The writer of Hebrews was also a  firm believer that God speaks to us for the purpose of transformation, not information.  When God speaks, it is meant for life change.  So when I read or hear the word of God, am I asking questions such as: “What am I going to do about it?”, or “What does this mean for my life?”, or “what changes must I make because of this?”.

How regularly do we respond or fail to respond to God’s Word?  If we really believe that the Bible is the Word of God, would we ever walk away from a Sunday sermon without taking time to wrestle with how God is expecting us to respond to what HE has said.  No matter who the preacher is we would be straining to hear God’s voice through his Word.  If we are apathetic toward God’s Word when it is preached or when we read it ourselves, that is a good indication that we have a growing problem with sclerosis of the (spiritual) heart!  Remember that this was a common chorus in chapters 3 and 4: “do not harden your hearts”.  We are to do whatever it takes to proactively ensure we don’t become hard-hearted.  The best way to do this is to keep our spiritual ears listening to what God is saying, and responding in obedience.

What if you don’t have a desire to read the Bible?  Pray.  Pray for that desire.  Do you think God will not answer that prayer?  He WANTS to talk to you!  But don’t wait until the desire comes before you start reading.  Start now in faith and keep reading out of obedience.

What if you don’t know how to read or understand the Bible? Ask for help!  Confess this to a pastor or trusted friend you know has strong Bible-reading habits.  They won’t judge you.  Instead, they will be thrilled to help you get started in a life-changing discipline!  Read it together with others.  Use the wisdom of others; buy a devotional book that has meditational thoughts included.  If you’re not a reader, listen to it.  May God bless you as you learn to tune into the voice of God.

Honest, it’s free!

free

Every year when the Canadian coffee chain Tim Horton’s has it’s annual “Roll Up The Rim” campaign, not-so-coincidentally McDonald’s has a free small coffee promotion that occurs at the same time.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find it hard to receive something free.  It just doesn’t seem right.  I feel an obligation to participate in the transaction or else my mind tells me I’m being a free-loader.  Sometimes I am able to convince myself to get a free coffee; but sometimes I chicken out when I get to the order speaker and end up ordering a muffin or something to go with my free coffee.

Why do we as humans have such a hard time with “free”?  I don’t know.  Perhaps it has to do with the sin nature we are born with that strives to be self-sufficient.  Regardless, when look at Covenant in Scripture, it is a one-sided affair.  There is no room for us to contribute!  We see this in Abram’s life.  God waits until Abram is sleeping (Gen.15) before God seals the Covenant, so Abram can’t participate in the Covenant ratification.  God does it again with Abraham-God ensures it is all Him by bringing about the miracle of childbirth to those way beyond the age of child-bearing.  Skipping ahead to the life of David, David desires to build God a hous, but God declares that He will instead build David a house (2 Sam.7)!

We see this struggle of “free” appear in the early church.  In Acts 15 we read about the ‘Covenant Controversy’ that gets dealt with at the Jerusalem Council.  Some of the Jewish Christians were demanding that the new Gentile converts to faith in Christ be also circumcised in order to be fully connected to Jesus in the Covenant (Acts. 15:1,5).  Paul writes the book of Galatians to counteract this false teaching that made it all the way up to the churches he established on his first missionary trip.  Years later Paul expresses that again to the church in Rome: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17). 

We need to be reminded often of the free offer of salvation that our Heavenly Father makes to all his lost children.  We can be tempted to give people approved and forbidden behavior lists to accompany their salvation.  Yes, the evidence of repentance in our hearts will lead to obedience and actions that glorify our Heavenly Father. However, the work needs to begin inside and it will spill out.  If we try and conform people to whatever we think the image of Christ is, we are stepping on the Holy Spirit’s toes and stealing His work; not to mention we will do a far inferior job!  What our role is, and needs to be constrained to, is teaching people to hear the voice of God and to respond to what they are hearing.

What is your name?

new-name-q

Genesis 17:4-6
Then God said to him, “this is my covenant with you; I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them.”

Wow. God takes an old, past his expiry date (as Pastor Chris said this morning), 90 year old man and tells him that not only will he be the father of many generations–he will be extremely fruitful. This was God’s covenant with Abraham. God’s promise to him was that he would bear much fruit and that his new name would be a reflection of that fruitfulness. Pretty incredible stuff to tell an old man with no children!

In biblical times names were very important. They had meaning associated with them that often reflected the circumstances of the person’s birth or their family’s life. For example, much later in Genesis, Joseph names his sons Manasseh and Ephraim. Manasseh means “causing to forget”, and Ephraim means, “fruitful”. He chose these names because their births followed a time in his life where he had suffered wrongful imprisonment. He names his children as a sign that he will forget the pain and injustice he suffered in light of his new fruitfulness as he helps many people to survive a devastating famine.

Pastor Chris reminded us today that we have been renamed through our covenant with God just like Abram was. When I am feeling discouraged, I call myself things like useless, inadequate, unworthy. But these names are not my names. And they are not your names either! We have been renamed by God the Father as a sign of His covenant with us and through Jesus we have been “enabled to be ministers of His new covenant.” (2 Cor 3:6). The new covenant changes us by the power of the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit, God marks our hearts forever. We are His, and He is ours. Covenant is a 2-way street. Our new names sound very different from the old names we used to be called. This week I am going to take Pastor Chris’s challenge and write down some of my new names. Will you join me?

Did you hear that?

hearing

Have you ever been the sole person in a building  and in the stillness you hear noises that you aren’t causing?!  Talk about spooky!  And then throw in the variable of it being after dark and you have the makings of a horror movie!  Of course this isn’t your first time in this exact setting, and you know it is just the building settling, or environmental causes, but regardless, it still gets your heart-rate up!  Funny how we often don’t hear those same noises if someone else is with us.

As we look at the life of Abram (this Sunday we’ll get to his name change-Abraham), we can make the simple observation that he heard the Lord speak to Him.   “Leave your home.”  “I will bless you.”  “I will make you into a great nation.”  “I will protect you.”  “You will have a son.”  “I will make a covenant with you.”   God initiated the conversation and  relationship.  Even though Abram was alienated from God, like the rest of humanity, God spoke to Abram, and Abram received what was spoken-and it became faith in his heart.

The New Testament tells us: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”(Romans 10:17)  From a biblical point of view, faith to believe God comes from listening to God speak to us.  Because Abram heard and accepted the word of the Lord, God gave Abram the gift of a relationship with him.  God had extended an invitation to Abram-an invitation to a journey that would lead all the way back to the Garden of Eden (well, to the relationship and responsibility and life that we were created to experience).

God is always speaking to us; He isn’t trying to hide from us.  It can be helpful to tune out all the other noises in order to hear His voice.  The Lord called Samuel as a boy, but he didn’t recognize the voice because he hadn’t learned how to tune God in.  Eli had to help Him get started.  How about you?  Are you able to hear the Lord speak?  If not, I encourage you to do whatever it takes to learn to hear Him-the King of the Universe!  He wants to speak to you about identity and calling-the meaning of life!  It is worth seeking out a trusted friend to ask for help to begin the journey.  Remember, you’re never too old to learn something new 🙂