Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I'm wondering what there is to be ashamed of. If you have to state that you are not ashamed, then apparently others are.

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16)

Earlier Paul described this gospel that he is not ashamed of:

"which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 1:2-4)

The gospel that Paul proclaimed was concerning Jesus the Christ, but not entirely confined to Him. Elsewhere we learn that Paul proclaimed the gospel to be the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus (Acts 28:23,31). It was this gospel that he was not ashamed of.

There is true power in the gospel. I've often thought that the gospel, consisting of the two vital elements of the kingdom of God and the person of Jesus the Christ, are like two pieces of atomic matter in a nuclear device. Both pieces are relatively safe so long as they are separated, but when brought together they create critical mass which unleashed tremendous energy.

History indicates that far too many have been ashamed of the gospel in that the message about Jesus has often been proclaimed without any mention of His purpose-driven message, the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). The "critical mass" of the gospel is not reached without both vital parts to the gospel message.

Proclaiming and embracing both vital aspects of the gospel message is not merely about intellectual understanding; it is about appropriating "the power of God for salvation". The "current" truly flows when we are plugged in to the total gospel.

The Jesus who was a messenger of the good news of the kingdom of God "was born of a "descendant of David, according to the flesh". He arrived in the world like any other human, because He indeed is human, the Son of Man. But He is validated as the Son of God through the power of God in raising Him from the dead.

The gospel is the good news about a kingdom-proclaimer who was born into the world as a mortal human being, and who is now empowered with immortality. And this truth is nothing to be ashamed of.

Can you feel the power?


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nationality factors in to who we are. Many people are quick to declare that they are American, British, French, African, or Hispanic. And yet are Christians truly defined by their nationality?

Jesus' statement while on trial before the Roman ruler Pilate is especially enlightening:

"My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews ; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king ?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." (John 18:36-37)

Jesus indicates that He is head of a government of truth. This system of government "is not of this realm"; not comparable to this world's systems of government. It is a government, not in competition with but far superior to, other governments.

What are the implications of belonging to Jesus' government of truth? Does it completely divorce us from the governments of this age? Few questions have been more difficult to answer, or as hotly debated. This much seems clear: Jesus' vastly superior government of truth is destined to overwhelm and conquer all governments of this age. This will not be accomplished through the militarization, political activism, or lobbying of His people, but through His direct intervention at His return. The King of the kingdom, supernaturally empowered by His Father, our Creator, will accomplish this.

The governments of this age and the kingdom of God will always be in dynamic tension, and defining the roles of kingdom citizens in relation to the governments of their earthly citizenship will be difficult. But the overwhelming confidence that we have is that the perfect government of truth will ultimately triumph.

As the Roman ruler Pilate asked, "What is truth?" (John 18:38). Truth is ultimately embodied by the government of God and ruled by the Son of God. Citizens of that government enjoy the rule of truth in their personal lives as they seek to be ambassadors who represent the government of truth to peoples of all nations. We partner together with the government of truth as we await its ultimate triumph.

Our perspective is that of the early church, as they observed the actions of the governments of this world: "'WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE, AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS? THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER AGAINST THE LORD AND AGAINST HIS CHRIST." (Acts 4:25-26)

The kingdom of God is not threatened by present-day government actions. The kingdom of truth triumphs and on this truth the people of God take their stand.

Rejoice, victorious kingdom citizens, because it will soon be true that "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever." (Revelation 11:15)


Monday, December 21, 2009

How truthful should we be with one another? Speaking to others about annoying habits or mannerisms is one thing, but what about areas of disobedience and sin? Dare we be that honest?

"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." (Matthew 18:15-17)

Jesus calls us to care enough to confront, but few things are more difficult - or risky. It's much easier to look the other way or bury our heads in the sand. Why risk a good friendship or disrupt Christian fellowship? After all, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."

If a series of medical tests reveal life-threatening cancer, would you want your doctor to withhold that vital information because of the fear of upsetting you? Of course not! Effective treatment is dependant upon knowing and acting on this crucial information. Nothing would be more heartless than failure to face these facts.

Issues of sin and disobedience are at least as serious. Unchecked, these are potentially terminal spiritual issues; a spiritual form of cancer. We potentially contribute to a brother or sister's spiritual demise by ignoring such issues.

I'll be the first to admit my reluctance to confront. The risks are substantial, but I do not recall a single negative experience the few times I have confronted. A spiritually-minded brother or sister will be open to loving confrontation, regardless of how painful it might be. The desire to be undeterred on the path to the kingdom of God outweighs the momentary pleasure of sinful indulgence today.

"Lord, give me the compassion and boldness to confront those closest to me when they have become entangled in sin. And surround me with loving friends who care enough to confront me when I need to be redirected because of sin. Help me to always be teachable when confronted. I will yield to the direction and correction of loving and mature brothers and sisters in Christ."


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Are you a hugger or a shaker? Do you greet and welcome others with a polite handshake or unrestrained bear hug? As for me, I'm in transition from a shaker to a hugger, thanks to a warm church family of huggers.

A warm welcome consists of more than either a hug or a handshake, according to the pattern of Jesus:

"welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing." (Luke 9:11)

You'll never find it listed in a proper book of etiquette, but the most gracious welcome that can ever be extended to anyone is to share the good news of the kingdom of God and accompanying compassionate help. This is truly the most caring and welcoming gesture of all.

We find the apostle Paul doing exactly the same thing as Jesus: "And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered" (Acts 28:30-31). The lesson from Paul and Jesus is that a warm welcome is closely associated with sharing the message of the kingdom.

There is nothing quite like the warmth of a home, and no more perfect setting for sharing the kingdom good news. It is in the safety and warmth of a home that the hope and promise of the kingdom shines brightest. I reflect back on the many kingdom conversations I have had with others in my home and theirs. These have been wonderful times of encouragement, excitement, and anticipation. Questions have been answered, and possibilities explored.

Hugs and handshakes convey love and welcome, but nothing conveys compassion like conversations about the coming kingdom. I eagerly anticipate the next opportunity I will have to welcome someone into my home, or to be welcomed into their home, and discuss this all-important topic.

The next time you have opportunity to welcome someone, remember that it's more than a handshake or hug; it's sharing the great hope and good news of the kingdom of God.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

So who's out and who's in? Few topics have been as hotly debated as who will be in the coming kingdom of God. Are Catholics excluded? Will the Baptists make it? What about the Lutherans? The Pentecostals?

My opinion on the subject is of little value, but Jesus' words are monumentally important:

"someone said to Him, "Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?" And He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able." (Luke 13:23-24)

It is interesting that Jesus shifts the focus from "them" to "you". "Don't get hung up on how many others will or won't be in the Kingdom; focus on making sure that you enter", He says. The difficulty for the majority to enter through the narrow door is statement enough regarding the challenges: entering the kingdom of God is no simple matter. Stating that we need to "strive to enter" means that it requires intense focus and unswerving dedication and commitment. Seeking the kingdom must be more than a casual walk in the park.

The pathway to the Kingdom is ultimately a personal one. No one enters on the coattails of great people of faith or biblically-correct churches. Followers of the crowd will likely be headed for the wrong destination. It is only through a personal response to the message and man, Jesus, that we are set on the path to the Kingdom. The life of the Kingdom is then nourished within us through disciplines such as Bible study, prayer, Christian fellowship, and stewardship of time and possessions.

Striving to enter the kingdom involves DOING, but primarily it involves BEING. The good works and deeds of our lives will never make us fit for the kingdom, but they will be tangible evidence of our citizenship and the character of Christ and the kingdom formed within us. Our most compelling witness is kingdom character expressed through consistent words and actions.

May the indwelling Spirit of God build Kingdom character within each of us which overflows in words and deeds that will positively impact others around us for the King and His Kingdom.


Monday, December 14, 2009

You've probably heard about the tombstone that reads, "I told you I was sick". It's one thing for other people not to take our illnesses seriously; it's an entirely different matter when we don't. Shortness of breath and pain in our chest are symptoms we ignore to our own peril. But even more perilous is the danger of ignoring symptoms of spiritual illness.

Jesus was often confronted by the religious leaders for hanging with the wrong crowd. The Great Physician was criticized for spending time with the spiritually ill. Sadly, the true reality was that these so-called spiritual leaders were at least as spiritually sick as those who were obviously so. And for that reason Jesus said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means : 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:12-13)

The saying, "there are none so blind as those who will not see", fits well here. These arrogant and smug religious leaders were spiritually bankrupt and a serious stumbling block to sincere seekers. They did not know how great the spiritual needs of others were and even worse, they did not even know of their own desperate spiritual condition. Compassion, as Jesus pointed out, is a characteristic of the spiritually healthy. Later in this chapter it is exemplified in the life of Jesus Himself:

"Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:35-36)

Spiritually healthy people are those who declare the true gospel, the message about the kingdom of God, and validate that message through compassionate deeds. And these must go hand in hand. As they saying goes, "people will never care how much you know until they know how much you care". Jesus' compassion was the "magnet" that drew people to His message. The same will be true for us.

A spiritual check-up is always appropriate for the people of God and the truest indicator of spiritual health will be in answer to these questions: (1) what am I doing with the message of the kingdom of God?, and; (2) how am I compassionately serving others with that message?

May the Great Physician be manifested through a great host of compassionate messengers today.


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

We are largely defined by family. In addition to genetic traits, families play a large part in our values and priorities. But do we understand who are families really are?

The most radical definition of family is given by Jesus:

"Someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You." But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! "For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:47-50)

It might appear that Jesus rejects his biological family with such a statement, but in reality He accurately redefines family. Family is determined, not by genetics, but rather by commitment to a core value; namely doing the will of our true Father. Family based on anything else is not true family. This coincides with Jesus' statement in Matthew 10:37 - "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me". Family consists of those committed to doing the will of the Father, of which was the key priority of Jesus His Son.

There is no greater joy than having biological family as our true family. I delight in father, mother, sisters, in-laws, cousins, aunts, and uncles who are all true family through faith in Jesus Christ. We share a family connection not only in this age, but also the age to come. But family is far greater than these; as members of the family of Abraham (Romans 4:16), our family is as vast as the sands of the sea and the stars of the sky.

Biological families have family crests and emblems that represent their identity. In fact, family names often reveal trades and occupations that identified early ancestors. Our true identity is found in the emblem of a cross that represents the ultimate commitment to the will of our Father. Jesus, our Savior and brother, through His pattern of obedience to the Father's will, models our priority. We are family so much as we pursue the same path and priority.

We are Kingdom family. We are destined to do the Father's will alongside Jesus in ruling the world at His return. By reminding, encouraging, and challenging our true family today of this destiny, we make a significant investment in our family life.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Weapons of mass destruction or electricity for the masses? This is a pressing issue when a rogue nation develops nuclear capabilities. For what purpose will this power be used?

No one ever evidenced supernatural power like Jesus. In Matthew eight alone we see him healing a leper, giving a word of command to affect a healing at a distance, curing a feverish woman, calming a storm, and exorcising two demon-possessed men. The rest of the Gospels are filled with endless accounts of the miraculous at the hands of Jesus.

Notice: "When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed ; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet : "HE HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES AND CARRIED AWAY OUR DISEASES." (Matthew 8:16-17)

Power with purpose. Jesus wasn't a do-good miracle man who went about performing random acts of kindness; the display of divine power was for the express purpose of establishing his credentials as the Son of God and displaying the reality of the Kingdom of God. For those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, He displayed evidence to validate the message He declared.

We have been supernaturally enabled for similar purposes. Our divine enabling is for the purpose of declaring and demonstrating the coming kingdom of God and the presence of its King in our midst. Believers living in radical community and boldly declaring the gospel message by word and lifestyle is the ultimate in power with purpose. These are "weapons of mass conversion" designed to turn the world upside down as it did with the church in the Book of Acts.

We are people who have power with purpose. That power may not be manifested by instant healings through touch, but sincere, generous acts of kindness and compassion will be evident.

An appropriate question to consider today is, "How can the King and the Kingdom be demonstrated through the divine power within me?" The answer to that question will be found in the divine appointments and encounters He will arrange for us today.

May He fully work His power with purpose in and though us.


Monday, December 07, 2009

The first rule is to break all the rules. This may be a popular management strategy but, more importantly, it is the rule of the Kingdom of God.

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way" (Luke 6:20-26).

Society's norm is in complete contrast to the norm of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is today's world inverted - the needy and hurting become the rich and the whole; the haves' becomes the have nots', and vice versa. The Kingdom provides the ultimate justice. Little wonder that we are invited to "be glad in that day and leap for joy".

To even the most casual observer it is abundantly clear that this world is characterized by brokenness. Criminals are often rewarded rather than punished. Good, decent people are exploited and oppressed.

The Giver of Kingdom good news calls His followers to be messengers of good news. As those who are "glad" and "leap for joy" in that day, our enthusiasm has the potential to be widely contagious. Our weary and heavy-burdened friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers will wonder what we are up to! And curiosity over our "little secret" will lead to opportunities for sharing.

As those living with one foot in this age and the other foot in the age to come, we have a wonderful opportunity to be bridge-builders to the King and the Kingdom. May the present reality of the coming kingdom be so bright in our lives as to draw the needy and hurting around us to its reality.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Jesus really knew how to liven up a party. He showed up at a wedding reception and bought a round of drinks for all present. Well, maybe He didn't exactly buy the drinks; He did something more dramatic - He turned several pots of water into fine wine.

"On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it." Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water." So they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, "Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter." So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew ), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now." (John 2:1-10)

Straight-laced, tee-totaling church-goers have a tough time with the first miracle of Jesus. Surely the Son of God could kick off His earthly ministry with something better than spiking the punch. But if all we see is a Savior who provided alcohol for the party we miss the point entirely.

Consider the occasion for His first miracle: a wedding. We are told that the Second Coming of Jesus will be preceded by a wedding and reception (Revelation 19:7-9). The ultimate life celebration is a wedding and a very fitting symbol of the joy of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus used waterpots that were for the purpose of purification as containers for the fine wine He provided. The truest purification is what He offers: a baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). The early believers, having received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, were thought to be drunk with wine (Acts 2:13).

So the picture we have in the first miracle of Jesus is not that of a wine-making miracle man, but rather a wonderful picture of celebration of the Kingdom of God and the empowering of Holy Spirit. The real miracle is that Jesus came to introduce the beginning of the ultimate party, the Kingdom.

Isaiah the prophet says, "The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain ; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And refined, aged wine." (Isaiah 25:6). The kingdom is a magnificent celebration, complete with rich food and fine wine.

May your day today be a kingdom celebration as you await the Big Party.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The rough-looking wilderness man had a knack for straight talk. Those looking for flowery rhetoric would find none with this straight-arrow preacher, but they would find a man of undeniable truth. His call was abundantly clear: evidence a change of heart with a change of lifestyle.

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" ... "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come ? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance ; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father '; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees ; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 3:2, 7-10)

Calling your audience a "brood of vipers" is anything but an effective strategy in building a loyal following, but then that was never John the Baptist's agenda. This simple messenger of truth was consumed with his role to 'MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT !' (Matthew 3:3). It was never his goal to build a reputation or attract a crowd to himself; it was always about pointing people in the right direction in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.

The world desperately needs some John the Baptists today. The call in this eleventh-hour of human history is for a dedicated band of truth-seekers and truth-speakers who will point a wayward world toward the coming king and His kingdom. A gospel of prosperity and feel-good faith will do little to prepare hearts to welcome the king and to rule the world. The urgent call is to "bear fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:8). The proof is in the walk, not the lofty talk.

We are forever indebted to a crusty, straight-talking preacher who looks us in the eye and calls us to live like we believe it. Calling ourselves fruit trees isn't enough, he says; unless we bear fruit we are destined to be "cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 3:10). The evidence of our intention is our action.

The coming of the king and the kingdom is just around the corner, and now is the time to 'MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT' (Matthew 3:3). Are you headed down the straight path of the Lord? Are those you know and love headed down that path? The need for an answer to these questions may be more urgent than you know.