Exploring Covenant and Kingdom

Discovering what relationship and responsibility are all about

The Poverty Of Self-Sufficiency

self sufficiency

Doesn’t independence feel great?!  Not having to rely upon others is such a release of stress.  That is certainly one of the highest values espoused by the world.  As evidenced by the quote above, that spirit of independence isn’t anything new.

But is there a danger in self-sufficiency?  The Bible would tell us so!  Jesus’ letter to the church in Laodicea in the book of Revelation is a great example of this:  “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev.3:17).  Self-sufficiency is rooted in the age-old sin of pride and independence that we see in Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden!  Satan’s temptation was that they don’t need God to tell them right and wrong, that if they eat of the fruit their eyes would be opened and they could know such things for themselves (Gen.3:5)!  We were created for relationship with God.  We were created for dependence, not independence.  He desires to be our Heavenly Father who cares for us.

Week one of our new sermon series “Investing Like Jesus” focused on the money that God entrusts to us to steward.  If self-sufficiency (independence) is the highest goal of life then money (financial capital) is the most important thing to gain.  That’s what the world teaches us, doesn’t it?  It calls us to make all that we can so that we can be secure and enjoy life.  WE are the centre and purpose of life.  The Bible paints a very different picture and challenges us to re-prioritize the place of money in our lives.  Money is not to be an end in itself, but rather a tool to be used to bless and serve others (and ultimately leveraged for the Kingdom’s sake)!  Paul states it like this in 2 Corinthians 8:13-14: “ Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. 14 Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.”

What is to be the highest priority in the life of a believer?  To seek first the Kingdom of God (Mt. 6:33)!  If we do this, Jesus promises that our Heavenly Father will take care of all our needs.  Some peoples’ wrong assumption is that this means that God will make us self-sufficient.  This certainly can’t be the case.  If anybody was sold out for the cause of Christ it was the apostle Paul and examining his life we see that that promise certainly didn’t mean self-sufficiency!

Phil.4:11-13 is very revealing in regards to this: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength”.

Mike Breen’s comments on this are helpful: “Paul’s life wasn’t filled with constant financial abundance, and neither should we expect ours to be.  Paul had seasons when he was in need, and he also had seasons when he had plenty.  In ALL of those circumstances, Paul was able to function in his identity and calling, because of the strength that Jesus gave him.  When finances were low, he knew he still had other kinds of capital that were worth far more than mere money.  So whether he had plenty of money or very little money, he could still do everything he needed to do through the grace of God.”

What is your current mindset regarding money?  Is it healthy and biblical, or do you need to make some adjustments?  May God never have occasion to say to you or me, or our church, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

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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!

Put The Reins On Zeal!

reins

Horses are magnificent creatures.  Powerful creatures.  It is a remarkable thing that humans have been able to tame, domesticate, and control animals.  I suppose that authority or ability goes back to God’s commission in the Garden of Eden that humans have “dominion” over the animals (Genesis 1:28).  But I digress.  The method of controlling a horse (which is multiple times heavier and stronger than a human) is through the contraption of a bridle, bit, and reins.  The reins are the long, narrow straps used to a rider to guide or keep the horse in check.  The reining doesn’t squelch the horse’s actual power,  isn’t diminished but simply channeled and directed.  From that literal tool we get the imagery and metaphor of “reining” somebody in.  By that we mean to control, pull back into check somebody who is going outside of the set parameters.

Enter Sunday’s text of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-31).  In Saul we see somebody raging around with incredible power.  We see a man full of zeal and passion.  However, it is unbridled and misdirected passion.  Jesus reins it in.  Saul thought He was on God’s side and doing God’s work by trying to exterminate “the Way” (Acts 9:2) which Saul saw as a disease infecting Judaism.  Perhaps he saw himself in the same league as Phinehas (a priest, Aaron’s grandson, see Numbers 25) who’s righteous zeal led him to commit a double homicide of an Israelite man and a Moabite woman indulging in sexual immorality.  God did not judge him for that.  On the contrary, God was actually pleased with his zeal (Num. 25:11-13).

Are Phinehas and Saul on the same bandwidth?  A similar zeal is not enough.  Saul’s zeal was not informed by knowledge, and so he actually found himself working against God!  Saul refused to believe the disciples’ preaching that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that Jehovah accepted all people.  Saul’s zeal run amok ought to cause us to pause and ask whether our zeal and our passion comes from God or is driven by our own flesh or our ignorance of God and His ways.  There is a common misconception in churches that having passion for something qualifies you to serve in that role.  Or having knowledge or expertise or skill qualifies you to serve in leadership.  Neither passion nor gifts are sufficient in and of themselves.  They need to be combined with proper knowledge of God and His Word.  Repeatedly in Acts we have seen that being filled with the Spirit was the qualifications used for leadership (i.e. Acts 6:3).  We see the same qualifications named by Paul in his epistles.  Those who serve in roles of influence in the church need to have reached a significant level of spiritual depth.  They need to be people who are typically viewed as being filled with the Spirit because their lives overflow with the fruit of the Spirit.  In the life of Riverbend this is a great time to pause and think about this as we head into nominations time for Church Council vacancies and our Annual Meeting.  Let’s live with zeal according to God’s character and ways so that He doesn’t have to rein us in!

 

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?

Praying Is Helping

praying for others

Last Sunday, after a 5 week pause for Advent, we picked up on our sermon series in Acts.  We covered Acts 8:1-25.  Verse 4 says, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went”.  Beginning in verse 5 Luke uses Philip as a specific example of what that looked like.  In Samaria Philip not only preached the gospel in the boldness of the Spirit, but also performed many miracles in the power of the Spirit.  This was particularly important in Samaria because for years the people there had been amazed and under the power of Simon the sorcerer.  If the gospel would have any relevance to them, they would need to see that it wasn’t just words but in fact this Christ who was being preached was even more powerful than the magic of Simon.

One of the truths of this passage, and the book of Acts as a whole, is that God spreads the gospel through displays of His power.  Do you believe that God continues to do that?  I do.  Hopefully you’ve experienced miraculous answers to prayers in your own life, but if not, most people have heard incredible stories from overseas missionaries.  It is one thing to believe in general that God still displays his power because not as much is on the line if God doesn’t come through.   It is quite another thing to put yourself out there and actually pray for others in person and see what happens.  What if we pray for a non-Christian and then our prayer isn’t obviously answered?  Won’t that give God a bad name?  Perhaps you’d rather not risk that and so in the name of “protecting” God’s reputation you don’t dare praying for others?

I recently read an interesting perspective on this that may change your mind.  Choosing not to offer to pray for others in need is selfish, faithless, and unloving, rather than protective.  Think of these analogies: “If an unbelieving neighbour was suddenly out of work, and you had some important connection that could get him a job, wouldn’t you make an effort to contact that person?  Or, if you knew someone with a serious illness and your father happened to be a famous doctor who specialized in treating that illness, wouldn’t you ask your dad if he would be willing to see your neighbour?  Or course, you would!  Who wouldn’t!  And who wouldn’t go to their Heavenly Father and ask Him to intervene for the same needy neighbour?”

Those are challenging words.  Could my failure to pray for others be unbelief, cowardice, fearfulness, and evidence of a lack of love for my neighbour?  Do you really believe that God is King?  If so, we should have no problem offering to pray for others.  I remember a couple years ago a pastor friend of mine shared about a transformation in his ministry.  It happened because believers began to have the courage to ask non-believing acquaintances what they would most like God to do for them, and then praying that for them.  And low and behold there was a substantial increase in answers to prayer and people moving towards a faith in God!  James tells us that we don’t have because we don’t ask (James 4:2).  I dare you to step out in faith and see if God doesn’t begin to reveal himself more often to others than you are experiencing now!

 

 

Shirking responsibility

shirking

In our cultural Christianity we professionalize church ministries.  We pay people to do some of the major work of the church.  This has both benefits and problems.  The problems are that it is easy to “outsource” our Christian duties and responsibilities to somebody else.  For example, we all live busy lives and so instead of guarding time in our homes to be the primary spiritual influencers of our children, we find peace of mind that the children’s ministry is teaching our kids about God.  Shirking our duties?  Delegating?  Deuteronomy 6:7-9 reminds us that our homes, not the “temple”, is to be the primary place our children experience and learn about God.

Last Sunday was Acts 8:1-4 was a portion of the sermon passage.  (That was the last Sunday for 2017 that we had in Acts.  We are pausing for 5 weeks now for Advent and New Year’s).  Stephen had just become the first Christian martyr (a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs).  That event was the trigger for the first major persecution that the early church experienced. Acts 8:1b tells us: “A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria”.  The church had grown to around 10,000 people (a conservative estimate).  That’s a lot of people scattered!  Although in comparison to recent scatterings (hundreds of thousands and millions of refugees fleeing areas in Africa and Asia), that pales in volume.

What did all the scattered believers do?  Start-up a new, quiet life?  Hide from further persecution?  Verse 4 tells us that “the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.”  Wow!  That’s thousands of missionaries!  The believers took their Kingdom responsibility seriously.  They shared the good news.  Acts 1:8 (And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.) wasn’t just a directive for the apostles.  Part of the apostles teaching (i.e. Acts 2:42; 5:42; 6:2) must have been about the call for every believer to be a witness.  They understood that the call to witness and evangelize was every believers’ responsibility and not something they could delegate away!

What about you?  What do you do with Jesus’ call for you to share the Good News with others?  Are you in the practice of praying for opportunities and stepping into them?  Or are you shirking responsibility by leaving all proclamation of the Good News to gifted evangelists and the pastor?  It is tempting to limit our role in sharing the Good News with others primarily through inviting others to church with the hope that somebody else will tell them the Good News.   It is a wonderful thing to be able to invite our friends and family members to church gatherings or special events knowing that there will be opportunities for them to hear the gospel, BUT we dare not think that inviting people to church is the primary way that Christians are to be Jesus’ witnesses.  People are most impacted when they hear a testimony of what God has done in the life of somebody they know and have relationship with.  The gospel really advances and bears much fruit when we as God’s people recognize and embrace the responsibility that we all have to spread the Good News.  God spreads the gospel through ordinary Christians!

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.