Exploring Covenant and Kingdom

Discovering what relationship and responsibility are all about

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.

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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?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

Out Of Control?

Out of Control

If you’ve ever worked in kids ministry you know that it doesn’t take much for a whole group to get out of control!  A simple thing, such as a kid farting, will distract and disengage the whole group!  The laughter spreads like wildfire and curiousity on the far end needs to know what sparked the initial laughter.  It takes serious effort to bring the kids back to a listening and attentive state, or even for the leader to remember what they were talking about!
Well, it doesn’t take much for our lives to derail or seem like they are out of control. Things are going along just peachy, as we would like them to, and then something happens that is out of our control and we are reminded that the control we thought we had was just an illusion!

This past Sunday we began a new sermon series; we began our look at the book of Ruth. It starts out disastrous.  There is a famine in Israel.  A Hebrew household (Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion) makes the tough decision to seek refuge in a neighbouring nation instead of sticking it out and trusting God.  While in Moab, Naomi goes through the double tragedy of losing both husband and sons.  Left only with daughters-in-law, she is pretty much hopeless (being a foreigner and in a patriarchal society).

The world would tell us that impersonal forces of nature and chance are the cause of our problems.  Scripture, on the other hand, teaches that everything that happens does so under the watchful eye of the Creator.  God’s sovereignty can be an uncomfortable truth to hold on to when we are the ones going through tragedy.

The trouble we have is with the expectations that God’s goodness will soon rectify our loss.  Our perspective and desires often don’t match God’s timeline.  It was 10+ years from when Naomi and family left Bethlehem to when they returned.  Ruth 1:3 seems to imply that it was after Elimelech died that her sons took wives.  Those marriages lasted 10 years.  10 years of infertility and then death.  We can understand how Naomi’s natural conclusion would be that “the Almighty has made life very bitter for me…the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me” (Ruth 1:20-21).  A decade is a long time.  But could God be using or even orchestrating these events for a greater good?  Our finite viewpoint is so small and narrow.  As we continue to study the book of Ruth we will get to see the whole picture of Naomi’s life.  We will be amazed at how the King of the Universe, in the administration of his Kingdom, often acts in compassion and HESED for his people through the trials and troubles.  (HESED is a Hebrew word that sums up all of God’s character.  It encompasses covenantal loyalty, faithfulness, kindness, goodness, mercy, love.  Too bad we don’t have one word like that in English!)  And it is really only through difficult times that the HESED of God’s people themselves is evidenced.  You can’t know true good without the bad!  “While God allows emptiness to come to Naomi, he does so in order to bring her fullness once again in an even more significant way and brings great glory to Yahweh.”

We need God’s Word and God’s people to remind us (especially in tough times) of God’s character, timing, track record, and sovereignty.  Our lives may evidently be out of our control at times but still God is always in control.

Come. Meet At The Table

dinner-table

The table is a gift of God.  It has special power to unite people and break down barriers!  It can be simply  reconnecting as a nuclear family at the dinner table, since life is busy and we’ve been running around in different directions all day.  Or it could be an extended family gathering; the joy of seeing family that geography has separated us from but for a few days we get to eat together and play together.  The unusually large gatherings around the table are always fun, exciting, and loud!  Or perhaps it’s solidifying friendships or acquaintances (neighbours?) by inviting them to join you for a meal.  We see the power of the table in Scripture too.  It’s not unusual to find Jesus in somebody’s home, sitting around a table and sharing a meal (i.e. Matthew 9:10).  He used that familiar place (dinner table) as a non-threatening way to build relationship and bring the Kingdom of God to people.  We see that the early church followed in the footsteps of Jesus and used the home and table as a primary base for ministry as well (i.e. Acts 2:46; Acts 20:7).

Two weeks ago in our Sunday gathering I preached on how we as the Family of God are called to live according to our Father’s mission and purpose.  As He sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us to continue his ministry and mission (John 20:21).  How do we think we will best accomplish our commission to make disciples and be His witnesses?

I’m guessing your go-to answer (because it’s my natural default) is what we’ve been taught and inherited: #1) Events.  We’ll plan an event at the church building and invite people to it.  Hopefully they’ll ask a question, or want to come when they see how nice we are.  Strategy #2) Invite a friend to “church”; by that we mean Sunday service.  Come gather with a bunch of strangers in a big room, singing songs you don’t know, and hearing weird lingo.  Now I’m somewhat exaggerating, and it’s okay to invite friends to church in hopes they’ll hear the gospel from the pastor (who is a stranger to them), and maybe they’ll like our music; God has, and can use that to bring people into the church. But that sounds like a crazy game plan when I put it that way, eh?  Instead I would suggest we need to unlearn those ideas of mission.  I think, looking at the way Jesus did it and the practice the early church had of meeting in homes, that our go-to for mission should be inviting others to join us as we gather as Family of God in the home.

The table is an effective “door” into the church because it is a common experience for all humanity.  Whether you are a person of faith or not you regularly eat around a table.  As such it is a comfortable, familiar place to introduce people of no faith to people of faith. This is a safe and unimposing place to expose them to the DNA of the family of God. Here they will witness our interaction, treating one another according to God’s ways, and hear about what it “looks like” to include God in the everyday of life.

Yesterday was the first official, full day of summer.  Summer means fine weather and more leisure time for most.  Let me encourage us to make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil (Eph.5:16).  Don’t waste the summer away by spending it on yourself, but maximize the opportunities to invite people over for a bbq or a wiener roast.  Be in the driver’s seat and look for opportunities to testify to the difference God has made in your life.  And don’t be surprised when the Holy Spirit has sent you people who are open and hungry for the abundant life that can only be found in Christ.