Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Plan your work and work your plan". This common-sense strategy is apparently God's strategy as well:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (The same-KJV) was in the beginning with God." ( John 1:1-2 )

To loosely paraphrase these verses, "In the beginning was The Plan, and The Plan was with God, and The Plan was God's". The Plan was fully formed in God's mind long before His creative energy formed all that now exists. His Plan was the blueprint for His work; He planned his work and then worked His Plan.

The Plan came to fruition in a manger in Bethlehem over two millennia ago: "And the Word (Plan) became flesh" ( John 1:14 ). The greatest irony and tragedy of the ages is the misunderstanding of The Plan: "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him" ( John 1:10 ). The Plan was the focal point of all God's creation (Colossians 1:16-17) and yet His most prized creation ignored, rejected, and rebelled against The Plan.

"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." ( John 1:12-13 )

To receive The Plan is to allow The Plan to work in and through us. As those who have received The Plan it has become The Plan for all the work of our lives.

We have been elevated to the most privileged status of all as the recipients and workers of The Plan. God has adopted us into His very own family and now carries out His priorities and initiatives through us. As such we are also able to declare, "the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" ( Mark 1:15 ). The Plan has been and is being fleshed out in us and the presence of the King indicates that the kingdom itself is now in our midst to some degree.

The plan for our work is the ultimate Plan and that Plan is being worked out as we surrender to its great priority. Perhaps our important refrigerator or bathroom mirror reminder needs to be the simple statement, "Work 'The Plan'". What will our lives and schedules look like today if we earnestly ask God to work our The Plan in and through us?


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Can you imagine having a year-long vacation every seventh year? Believe it or not, this was God's original plan for His people:

"Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. 'Your harvest's aftergrowth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall not gather; the land shall have a sabbatical year." (Leviticus 25:3-5)

It seems that God's sabbath plan (every 7th day, every 7th year, and every 49th year) was for rest, reconnection, redirection and re-creation. The cycle of work was to be broken in order to reassess and rearrange priorities.

The sabbath plan seems far removed from our existence today. Hopefully we are able to regularly break our cycle of work with a seventh day of rest but a year-long sabbath is likely not even a remote possibility for any of us. But, truth be told, we have an ever greater sabbath rest at our disposal:

"For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:8)

"So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His." (Hebrews 4:9-10)

Jesus didn't come to abolish God's sabbath plan, or any other law of God for that matter (Matthew 5:17), but rather to bring it to its fullest meaning and expression. Our "sabbath" is not found in a day or year, but it a Person. Thus He could say,

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

It is in Jesus that we find rest, redirection, reconnection with Him, God our Father, and with one other. In Him we are led to reassess and redirect priorities.

The discipline of a day of rest is beneficial, but even more beneficial is the ultimate rest found in Jesus our Lord. Regardless of your schedule and appointments today, may you find the rest that is truly possible through Him.

It was to be an annual, seven-day party. Everyone ceased normal activities, camped in tents, and feasted sumptuously. It was a celebration to end all celebrations, and for good reason.

"On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month." (Leviticus 23:39-41)

It was a type of Thanksgiving celebration - at the end of the harvest - but it involved much more than a huge dinner and an afternoon of football. The number "seven" hints at its significance - the celebration was held in the seventh month for seven days. Seven is the biblical number of completion and representative of Creator God. A seven-day celebration followed the completion of the harvest.

This annual celebration was a kingdom party! Feasting and celebrating represented the age of indescribable joy and fulfillment, as did a day of rest at the beginning and end (see Hebrews 4).

There is an image amidst God's details for His annual "kingdom party" that has special significance. God's people were to bring "the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook" (Leviticus 23:40). This was the very thing done for Jesus as he entered Jerusalem the week that He was crucified. They were celebrating what they thought would be the ultimate kingdom party - when messiah overthrew the powers of this age to establish the kingdom of God on earth.

It is important that we celebrate the kingdom party today. Jesus clearly saw the kingdom amidst the ordinary and let that form the basis for His primary teaching tool, the parable. The kingdom was much more to Him, than an annual celebration; it was found in the very fabric of daily living. Thus He could announce, "the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15).

In a world of chaos, upheaval, and oppression exists also the kingdom of God. It is not here in fullness, but it is silently growing in our midst. The seed has been and is being planted, and is springing to life and bearing fruit that will last. Its presence is to be nurtured and celebrated as we await the ultimate Party.

Every gathering of believers is a kingdom celebration, even as was the Feast of Booths, described in Leviticus 23. Whether few or many, may that kingdom celebration permeate every encounter between believers.

If I were to write a "Bible For Dummies" book it would only contain three verses. To understand these verses is to literally understand the whole plan and point of the Bible.

"I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. 'Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. 'You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.'" (Psalm 2:7-9)

The essence of these verses is very simple but vitally important: God begat a Son ( that implies that God's Son had a beginning just as we all do), and He is destined to be given the nations and the earth as His inheritance and possession. He ultimately will defeat the enemy nations of God.

It is safe to say that everything else in the Bible is secondary and in harmony with this great truth. As the Psalmist says, this is the "decree of the Lord" - His absolute, unchanging eternal plan.

The application and priority for every follower of Christ is abundantly clear: bring the purpose and direction of your life into harmony with this great decree. God's begotten Son is His pride and joy and should be ours as well. God is in process of turning all His creation over to His exalted Son. We can freely and gladly participate in that plan as well by surrendering our lives to be totally used for this great purpose. It is as fundamental as praying for God's kingdom to come and will to be done on earth as it is in heaven - around us and through us.

When God's purpose and decree is clearly understood the plans and aspirations of the nations and peoples of the world are easily seen as "devising a vain thing" (Psalm 2:1). The best government strategy and political savvy is no match for the great decree of God.

Living in this present evil age is like being adrift in a small rowboat amidst hurricane-force winds and waves. Discovering and harmonizing with the great decree of God is like being securely tied to a sturdy dock in a calm bay.

May God's great decree give you hope and stability today and always amidst the raging storm of our changing times.

It's a question as relevant as today's headlines: "Why are the nations in an uproar?" (Psalm 2:1). Economic uncertainty and upheaval are characteristic of our day as are wars and rumors of war. It is as Jesus predicted: "on earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and waves" (Luke 21:25). The sea and waves is considered symbolic of the turmoil of nations and peoples.

This uproar and upheaval can be simply explained:

"The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, "Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!" (Psalm 2:2-3)

The system of this world is not the system of God. Any effort to "Christianize" a nation or government is destined for failure because all nations and governments are, at their very core, enemies of the kingdom of God.

Two millennia ago a band of followers of Christ, having been mistreated and reprimanded by the government of their day, saw with clarity the truth of Psalm 2 (Acts 4:25-26). The explanation for their mistreatment was found in this Psalm which clearly explained the mortal combat into which the nations of this world were locked with the government of God.

We live in tumultuous times; perhaps the most tumultuous time ever. Many are alarmed and unsettled as comforts and securities are threatened, and yet our true security is not found in any of these things. Perhaps the blessing of these times is to rearrange our faith and hope if they have been unduly placed in the things of the world where they should not be.

There is comfort and assurance in knowing why things happen as they do in the world. Present upheaval is not caused by nations and governments seeking to be submissive to the One true God and His Anointed (Messiah), but rather to be freed from them: "Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!" (Psalm 2:3)

The mortal struggle between the systems of this world and the Kingdom of God will not be alarming to those whose true allegiance is with the Kingdom of God. And the surest way to place our allegiance with the government of God is to seek its priority today: "Your kingdom come. You will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33).

The nations are in turmoil because they are at war with the kingdom of God. We are at peace amidst the turmoil because our citizenship is in the kingdom through Jesus our Lord.

It's been said that the pen is mightier than the sword. Both written and spoken words have sparked great revolutions throughout history. The greatest revolution of all was started with the words, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15).

Most revolutions are bloody. As the masses embrace a message or ideology their passion for the cause leads them to take up arms to defend or advance it.

Jesus declared and demonstrated a peaceable kingdom. Were it otherwise He would have brought the infinite might of the armies of heaven to bear to defend and establish it as he stood prisoner before the authorities. But, rather than calling upon a crack-force of 72,000 angelic freedom fighters (Matthew 26:53), he calmly submitted to the existing authorities with the words, "my kingdom is not of this world (system)" (John 18:36)

Military conquest of the present system by the kingdom of God would have negated the very essence of the kingdom of God. True conquest would come through its ideals and values. The battle was destined to be won in the hearts and minds of people.

The Second Coming of Jesus is considered to be a triumph of might as opposed to the "my-kingdom-is-not-of-this-world" previous passive approach of Jesus. But is military might in view when it says that "From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations" (Revelation 19:15)? Is a "sword of the mouth" synonymous with a sword of the hand, or is it more accurately The Word of God, the name by which He is called at His return (Revelation 19:13)?

The gospel message of the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ is far more powerful than we can fully comprehend. It is the revolution of this peaceable kingdom that overthrows false philosophies, mindsets, and lifestyles and radically changes lives as well as the very fabric of this present age.

Embrace this true gospel with the urgency and determination of a soldier in combat embracing his weapon. Speak and live today with the confidence that the weapon we wield has the power to literally strike down the nations. And then let the peaceable kingdom conquer your heart, mind and lifestyle as you bring it to bear on the world around you.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

The first time I ever heard about it was in a wedding ceremony that I performed. It was called a covenant of salt, and I later learned that it was rich with meaning. I was reminded of it when I read these words:

'Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt." (Leviticus 2:13)

Under the Law God required all sacrifices to be seasoned with salt, serving as a reminder of His covenant with His people. The covenant of salt represented the most lasting and binding agreement of all between God and His people, which is also why it is a fitting wedding ritual representing the permanence of marriage.

That imagery is evident in Colossians 4:6 - "Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person." Our speech should serve as an offering to God, full of the seasoning of His covenant and grace to us and, as a result, a blessing to others.

Not only is our speech to represent that covenant but our very lives as well: "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men." (Matthew 5:13).

Our very lives represent the covenant of God. We embody the covenant that God has made with us in which He will restore this planet to a state of perfection, having ratified the covenant through the sacrifice of His sinless Son on a cross. As the embodiment of this covenant, we literally "season" and affect everyone we come in contact with.

Salt is both a seasoning and a preservative. Our presence and influence in the world adds the "flavor" of the kingdom while also slowing down the rotting process of a decaying world. Make no mistake: this present world and system is like a rotting piece of meat which will eventually completely decay, but our preservative influence will sufficiently slow the process to facilitate God's saving grace.

"Father, more fully form your character and covenant within each of us so that the integrity of our lives will touch and condition all we contact today."


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

If we don't understand the main point we won't understand anything else. It's a bit like playing baseball and not understanding that you have to cross home plate in order to score runs and win. Likewise, if we don't understand the main point of the Bible none of it will make any sense.

"Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. "You are witnesses of these things." (Luke 24:44-48)

In order for our minds to be opened to understand Scripture we have to understand that Jesus is the central focus - "Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures" (Luke 24:27). It's vitally important that we understand who He is and what His plan really is.

Traditionally it has been taught that God is angry with mankind because of the original sin and that He intends to consign wicked humanity to endless torment in a place called hell. According to tradition, Jesus came into the world to save a remnant who would be whisked away to heaven at death and spared the fate of the unrepentant.

That tradition misinterprets what Scripture truly reveals about the plan and person of Jesus. When we see that God is actively working to reclaim lost people for His kingdom through the person and work of Jesus His Son, and that He has enlisted those of us who are responsive to participate in this plan together with Jesus, our minds are truly opened to understand Scripture.

The enlightenment we have received must never be the source of intellectual arrogance, but rather the motivating energy for active participation in the kingdom plan. The clarity of the vision is the basis for mission.

May the central focus and purpose of Scripture cause our hearts to burn within us (Luke 24:32) and provide powerful impetus for mission and ministry today.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

It was the most outrageous crime of all time. It was also the most amazing act of love and compassion ever.

Four times in each of the New Testament gospels we are confronted with the account of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. To read these accounts is to be changed at the very core of our being. The injustice that our sinless Savior was subjected to screams out, and yet it is overshadowed by the most selfless, loving act of all time. We cannot come to the cross without walking away changed.

At the cross Jesus exemplifies all that He taught. He who spoke of the blessings of being insulted and persecuted and having said "all kinds of evil against you because of Me" ( Matthew 5:11 ) fully demonstrates the meaning of His teaching by saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" ( Luke 23:24 ).

In the ultimate act of trust and faith "Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit'". ( Luke 23:46 ). The mortal Son of God fully entrusted Himself to His immortal Father for life and resurrection.

The cross confronted us with life-changing choices. It is at the cross that we are called to live the teachings of Jesus our Lord. It is here that we die to self in order to live for Christ and the kingdom. At the cross we are called to sacrifice self for something far greater and bigger than ourselves. We are called to ultimate faith and trust in the One who alone possesses immortality.

At the cross we die to self and plead to the Savior, "remember me when You come in Your kingdom" ( Luke 23:42 ), and it is there that we are fully assured that we will be with Him in Paradise ( Luke 23:43 ).

The cross calls us to die in order that we might live. And as we die we live more than we have ever lived before.

May you find fullness of life today as you come to the cross to die to self.