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Jesus often describes the Kingdom of God with parables, stories that pierce the heart and reveal the truth of God to those earnestly seeking Truth. Throughout the parables I am amazed at one simple fact; God desires that I enter the Kingdom and take a seat at the table.

Angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410

Andrei Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity at Mamre would serve us well in understanding the Kingdom of God and how it is realized in the community of faith today. This Icon shows us what Abraham learned when he was visited by the Lord in Genesis 18, that the Lord exists in perfect community and unity and most importantly that there is always a seat at the table. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are equally sitting at the table in Holy community facing you and I asking that we would join them in their communal feast! How the Church would be transformed if we understood that our ministry is to be a reflection of the Trinitarian fellowship and communion happening at this table! The very nature of this communion speaks to how we as servants of Christ should be engaging ministry and working in the Kingdom today.

First, we must understand that we are doing the Father’s work, not our own work.  Our concentration should be on pleasing our Father and not ourselves. When we are committed to our Father’s work and calling in our live’s, we stop building our kingdom and we begin to build not with items of this world but of the kingdom which will never perish or fade. The Father’s work is not about self, it requires us to “seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the fatherless and plead the case of the widow.”

Second, the Kingdom is built upon the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. The ministry which God has placed in our care is focused on Christ and his sacrificial work upon the cross. This work is about self sacrifice, not self exaltation! This admittedly, may be the hardest component of the Kingdom, when we live life through the sacrifice of the cross we turn people away from ourselves and “direct them to the gospel of grace–to Jesus Christ, that they might look to him to lead them, open their hearts in faith and prayer, and draw them by the Spirit into his eternal life of communion with the Father.”

Third and finally, we reflect upon the truth of praying (and living) to God the Father by the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. By reflection of the Trinity we understand that God has created us to be transformed by community. The antithesis of building the kingdom of self is to focus on the community that is brought together by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Practically, this happens when we move away from thinking that “communion” is a once-a-month act and allow the Spirit to transform us into a community. Community means that we put the needs of others, before self and that we follow the model that our Lord Jesus Christ entrusted to us as we, together, take our seat at the table.

 

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I had to apologize to my wife. It definitely wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last that I wanted to seek forgiveness for my actions but this apology was unique. I had neglected something fundamental to our relationship and our lives together and I realized that I was not truly loving my wife. As I reflected deeply upon this I realized that I was not loving anyone…I was merely going through the motions. Allow me to explain…in the human sense of the word I love my wife well, I provide for her, protect her, listen to her needs, buy her flowers and all of the numerous trappings that come with the modern sentimentality of love. But this is not love, these romantic notions may be a small fragment of what love is but it falls woefully short of the love that God has modeled for us and called us to live out each day.

The love that we express in our society is a performance based “love.” Take a moment to reflect honestly about this. Our love is expressed to those who “deserve it” and have “earned it.” Every relationship that we have is entrenched with this worldview. We “love” our children when they behave and don’t embarrass us as parents, we “love” our friends and family members when they “love” us back and don’t betray our trust. We “love” our spouses when they do their share of the chores, help the household run smoothly or when they satisfy our emotional, physical and spiritual needs.

Shame on us.

Think of this amazing notion for just a moment…God loves us regardless of our performance! If we embarrass Him, betray Him, lie to Him, cheat on Him, forget about Him or neglect Him God still loves us. Not because of anything that we have done or could ever do, God loves us because of the sacrifice His Son made for us on the cross. God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to die on the cross (John 3:16) so we could understand how non-performance based God’s love for us truly is. God has shown us that he loves us despite our performance and that we are to love others in the same way, not based on performance but according to the worth God has ascribed upon us, the eternal worth which was purchased in blood by Jesus Christ.

Christianity is unique in this major aspect from all other world religions or belief systems…that “God is love.” (1 John 4:16b) Not that God knows how to love or that love is an aspect of who He is, but that love is the essence of His entire being. Likewise, to be called His children, we are called to love like God, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16) I want to love others like God loves me, not based on performance but based on the eternal love that is mercifully shown to me every moment of my existence. That’s True Love and it’s time I live it out…will you join me?

(This post is my contribution to a series at Grace Church on the book “Spiritual Disciplines of a C.H.R.I.S.T.I.A.N.” you can read the other posts here)

A strange phenomenon has happened inside the halls of American Christianity, we’ve gotten the third member of the Trinity all wrong. That’s right, the Holy Spirit has been offended and we are to blame. Charismatics believe that they own exclusive rights to the work of the Holy Spirit and Evangelicals act as if He is something akin to the Force from Star Wars, yet both are wrong. The Holy Spirit is at work in each believer, equipping Christians with the ability to produce fruits of righteousness, to accomplish works that are impossible to our personal/human limitations and lastly through the blessing of spiritual gifts and enabling us to use our gifts in a way glorifying to God. We must make a disciplined effort if we wish to see these areas of our life continue to grow.

In his book “Spiritual Disciplines of a C.H.R.I.S.T.I.A.N.” Dr. Gil Stieglitz shows us the practical application of living the Christian life in a way which develops lasting relational and spiritual growth with God. Stieglitz calls this the “Disciplines of the Holy Spirit.” Through these disciplines we as Christians allow ourselves to be utilized by the Holy Spirit and He in turn guides us to be more Christ-like. Not only are we mimicking the qualities of Christ, we become those qualities. One of the practical disciplines involved is through the meditation of the virtues taught and modeled by Christ. A great example of this is the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) where Jesus famously taught (and modeled) such virtues such as meekness and humility. By meditating on these attributes the Christian is led by the Holy Spirit to discover those virtues which are lacking or non-existent. As we follow this discipline the Holy Spirit draws out our weaknesses and turns them into strengths.

The Holy Spirit is also responsible for accomplishing what is only possible through the work of God. Jesus tells us “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27) All too often we place God into a box and we say things like “this can never happen” and yet we see God work in a powerful way through His Spirit. We must practice the discipline of making ourselves open to the working of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. By reading God’s Word we can see numerous times when God interceded in an impossible situation, He did then and He continues to work powerfully in our lives today. We must trust Him for the impossible, for it is only possible through Him.

Lastly, all Christians have been given spiritual gifts specifically granted by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). These gifts have not been given for our own good but that we may glorify God and that we may “serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in it’s various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10) When we utilize our gifts on a regular basis we fulfill our God given purpose, God is glorified and man is edified.

As Christians we should daily ask the Spirit to strengthen us in these areas of growth. I challenge you to start now, read through this list of the “Fruit of the Spirit” taken from Galatians 5:22-23 and take a moment for reflection. What areas do you feel strong in? What areas do you need the Spirit to guide and strengthen you in? By practicing this simple discipline you will begin seeing yourself reflecting Christ more each day! Amen!

Love                Goodness

Joy                  Meekness

Peace              Faithfulness

Patience          Self-Control

Kindness

Recently, God has been working in my life or should I say shaping my life. I’ve come to realize that during this time the analogy God uses in the Bible about being clay in His hands has become more a reality than a good word picture.

Here is the beautiful thing about clay, if you keep it moist and supple it can be continuously molded and shaped. As the potter turns the wheel and skillfully runs his hands over the wet clay the impurities can be rooted out and the smooth clay begins to take its beautiful form. Should a new impurity form, it can be dealt with and removed. The clay itself can be flattened and in just a few moments be reshaped into the form the potter desires. All of this is only possible while the clay is moist and supple in the hands of the Potter.

Now if clay does not stay moist and supple it begins to become hard and brittle. Once the clay becomes hard it is no longer good for shaping, the clay will retain the shape that it remains in. At this point there is only one recourse for the clay…to be broken.

God works the molding of our lives the same way. Many times when we are going through a struggle in our lives God is shaping us for the beautiful form he has in mind for us. The key is to stay moist and supple in the hands of the Potter and trust that His design is perfect, His skill is beyond compare and His love for His creation is beyond understanding. If we reject God’s shaping the wheel stops and we slowly grow hard and brittle, no longer being useful to pour water on us for the shape has been set. The only way we can be shaped at this point is to be broken and for Potter to begin again.

We’ve all been broken, we cannot be fixed until we are. Stay supple in the hands of the Potter and trust that He is shaping you for His perfect purpose.

Summer is in full swing; people are barbecuing, kids are out of school, the temperature is always HOT and life tends to lounge around like a sunbather by the pool. Today is the day that America celebrates it’s independence, the 4th of July, and its a day that encapsulates the feeling of summer. Cook-outs, swimming pools and fireworks round out the perfect summer day. For many summer is the greatest 3 months of the year, the fun never stops and life is carefree…but herein lurks a disturbing problem.

Spiritually speaking, summer is the darkest time of the year. Our focus turns inward; how can I have fun, where can I go on vacation and how can I delay responsibility for another day, week or month. And while fun activities and vacations are important for any person or family we neglect one very important fact, the Devil doesn’t go on vacation and evil never takes a break! Yet, ask any pastor in America and they will tell you that church attendance plummets during the summer. A friend of mine who is a youth pastor told me that he has to cancel all youth programs during the summer because only a handful of kids would show up and that’s from a church with a large youth ministry! I know people who don’t set foot in church between Memorial day and Labor day and for no other reason than it’s “Summer.” And this goes deeper than simple church attendance, people stop fellowshipping, they stop reading their Bible and most importantly they completely lose focus on their relationship with God. Spiritually, the summer is a dark place and we are deceived to believe otherwise.

How then, can we bring “light” back into our summer?  The first step is to remember to keep your focus on God, keep your relationship with Him strong and vibrant through prayer, fellowship and service. The next step is by opening your Bible and reading it!! Engage Scripture daily with a time of devotion and meditation. And the third and final step is to make yourself a plan! Plan what parts of Scripture you will read, study something that you never have before and make a list of books that will take your walk with God to the next level. Taking the time to cultivate your relationship with God now during the summer will pay huge dividends for you through the rest of the year. Your spirit, life and walk will be filled with light, not darkness.

Oh, and one last thing…go to church during the summer, they’re open, I promise!

The fact of the matter is this, someone IS preying upon our weakness, he doesn’t play fair and he is consumed with one thing…murdering my (and your) soul! He goes by many names but biblically we know him by the name Satan, which means “the accuser.” I’m going to state something which may shock many of you but you need to hear this…

Satan is real.

The reason I made a point of letting you know that Satan really exists is because he would like nothing more than you to believe that he doesn’t exist! Satan is the master manipulator, deceiver, accuser and liar. Jesus speaking about Satan says, “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44b) This is the very thing which makes Satan so effective in his destructive attacks, he knows how to attack our weaknesses and his lies are so convincing.

Let’s go back to the Garden for a moment. I’ve already established the fact that Adam and Eve’s sin was caused by their own evil desires but they definitely had help developing those desires. Satan comes to Eve and immediately begins to lie, “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the Garden?” (Genesis 3:1b) Eve knows that God allowed them to eat from EVERY tree except for one, but that is all Satan needs to spin his web of destruction and evil; 99% truth and to question God’s motives. Satan lives in 99% truth, “you will not surely die” he tells Eve and he was 99% right but 100% wrong, and you see that is where our evil desires love to hang out and mingle. We try so hard to justify why we need or want to sin and Satan preys upon this; make it mostly right and we justify sin all day long and the Deceiver sits back and laughs.

The second thing that Satan does is he makes us question the motives of God. He whispers in our ears that God is holding back something from us, not allowing us to have fun, punishing us or just simply neglecting us. Satan says to Eve, “you won’t die, God knows what will happen if you eat, you’ll be like him and he doesn’t want that.” (my paraphrase) Think about it for a moment, when something bad happens we question why God would ever allow it to happen, we question how our loving God could ever use suffering or pain for our good. Satan fuels these thoughts in our minds so that we believe that the One trying to rescue us is actually the enemy. The father of lies…hard at work. Yet the Bible teaches us something different about God’s character, we are told that, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) We can always trust the character of God, we can always trust he has good in store for us (8:28) because God proved himself to us through the crucifixion and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.

He died for us so that we wouldn’t have to submit ourselves to the schemes of Satan any longer and He died for us so that “the Accuser” could no longer slander those who are in Christ Jesus. Sin is very real and it flows from the evil desires of our hearts while it is being massaged and fueled by the deception of Satan.

Maybe you don’t agree with the notion that we are responsible for our own sin; that I sin because I want to sin. A short parable here may help us understand…

Early one morning a man walked out of a building and came across a man sitting dejected on the curb with his head in his hands. The man walking was going to pass on by without saying a word when he noticed that the person sitting on the curb was actually Satan! The man stopped for a moment and cautiously walked over to the rather miserable looking devil and asked him “what’s wrong with you?” Satan slowly looked up at the man, answering him with a question and a quiver in his voice…”why does everybody blame everything bad on me?!”

Now don’t get me wrong here. Satan definitely plays a role with evil and sin and I will address that in the next post, but for now, let’s look at ourselves.

Recently at the treatment center where I preach at on Sunday mornings a woman asked me a question during the Q & A time of the service. “My life was perfect,” she said. “I went to church every week, went to Bible study and small group and every aspect of my life was completely perfect. I had NO reason to start drinking but I did. Why did I throw my life away, why did I ruin a perfect thing?” That is an excellent question and reminds me of a similar “perfect” situation.

When God created this world he made everything perfect and without sin. God told Adam and Eve that they had dominion over the animals and the garden, they were in control of this perfect place God had created. Everything was their’s except for one little thing, God told them “you must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) Everything was PERFECT…so why did Adam and Eve sin? Because they desired to sin! Look at Genesis 3:6, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Sin looks good! Sin looks desirable! Sin looks fun! We sin because we desire something more, even when everything is perfect! The first step at understanding and overcoming sin is by understanding the desires of our hearts. James tells us, “but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (1:14-15)

We sin because of the desires of our hearts. We sin when everything is perfect. Could it get any worse than that? I hope no one is preying upon this glaring weakness that I have…

(Pt 3 coming very soon! Click on the “Sign Me Up” button on the left of the screen to make sure you don’t miss out on the rest of this series, Perfect Sin.)

What you find is that the problem of faith lies in us, not God, and it all comes down to a level of trust. Society tells us today to trust no one, to look out for #1, to take care of me. Nowhere are we told to trust in God; not in society, not in our schools, not in our places of work and frighteningly not in our churches. You heard me correctly, our churches. The one place you would assume would be overflowing with faith and trust is the one place where most people see a pragmatic, religious atheism played out on a daily basis. An oxymoron to be sure, but truth nonetheless. How is it “religious atheism” you might ask? We confess our lives to God yet we live our lives as if He doesn’t exist. We say we have given our hearts and lives to Christ to be our “Lord and Savior” yet we treat Him as if he couldn’t change a lightbulb, that He has no ability to work powerfully in our lives. On Sunday we have “faith” but come Monday we forget that He exists.

We allow ourselves to be forced into faith. What do I mean by that? Think about this for a moment; when was the last time you exhibited faith when you weren’t in a crisis? Interesting thought, isn’t it? Unfortunately we have things backwards in life, we feel that we are capable of taking care of everything, shelter, provisions, money, health and medicine and only in those rare situations when we don’t have any control over the outcome are we forced into faith in God. He becomes our last resort, our last hope, the Hail-Mary pass at the end of the game instead of being the first choice…the only choice. So my question is this, is that faith? Or, does that equate to something close to hitting a panic button and hoping something favorable happens? If God has proven Himself to us (as I established in part 1), why does it require such effort to “have faith?” Could it be that our faith is built upon our own expectations and not God’s and ultimately the problem is with the “our faith” part instead of it being “His faith.” If we were to lay aside our incomplete trust and faith while fusing ourselves to the faith only given by God our dilemma would be resolved. An example from Scripture will help clarify the point.

While Jesus was teaching a crowd of 5,000 assembled to be healed and listen to the words of Christ. When it started getting late Jesus asked the disciples to feed the people and the disciples responded in unbelief, “we have only five loaves and two fish.” (Matt 14:17) Jesus used what the disciples had to feed the 5,000 and then some. What Jesus didn’t do was ask how the disciples would solve the situation, He acted, in a mighty way to show the disciples that nothing is impossible for God. Therefore, they had no reason to doubt God. Seems like a good lesson in learning faith, so Jesus gives the disciples another shot at it. In Matthew 15, Jesus has a crowd of 4,000 following him when the same problem arises, how do we feed these people? The disciples ask Jesus, “Where could we get enough bread…to feed such a crowd?” WAIT…what just happened? Jesus fed a larger crowd just weeks before and the disciples don’t have a clue on how to feed them…are the disciples that slow? Or a better question, are WE that slow?

The disciples became powerful in building the Kingdom once they were able to let go of their selfish motives, their pride, their lack of faith and when they started obeying God. Let’s stop treating God’s Word as a collection of bedtime stories and start realizing them for what they are…True Life! Faith comes from obedience, and the greatest part is that God is faithful to us even when we aren’t obedient. Faith isn’t hard, wanting to obey God daily becomes hard because we allow the world to pull on us in so many directions, but stand your ground Christian! We have a God who proves Himself to us everyday, so let us take the “problem of faith” and use it as the Creator intended it, as the power of faith!

Society today treats faith as if it were a four letter word, speak about faith in an open setting and you can be guaranteed to receive a few snarls, angry glances and perhaps even open rebuke. Faith has no place in our modern, technological age of science and empirical data. Most people regard faith as a hopeless mysticism of days gone by and many have nothing else to say during times of great loss or tragedy but “have faith.” The statement is made with good intentions, it is meant to function as a salve for the soul but then we realize that we don’t even know what it means. And so we say something that has no application to our lives and we realize the hypocrisy before the words even leave our lips, yet we speak them anyway. The problem of faith plagues everyone but is the problem with “faith” or does it lie with us?

An atheist will tell you that faith is simply a blind belief in something, usually fueled from emotion, lacking any logical basis and founded in a God which doesn’t exist making it all the more illogical. But the atheist, just as the believer has a level of faith in more things than they would like to admit. Take breathing as an example, I have faith that in the next few minutes I will still be able to breathe. Now I may know all the intricacies of how breathing works, how oxygen is transferred to my blood cells which fuel the organs of my body and how without breathing my physical body would terminate from lack of oxygen. All of these facts are wonderful but they do nothing to assist my body in breathing, I must act out in a level of faith and actually breathe in to make the system work. Now the skeptic would immediately interject “that’s not faith, that’s science” but science just like faith needs to be proven true, so as each breath keeps my body alive I can have faith to continue breathing. Take the process one step further, there is nothing to say that I should be breathing and there is a plethora of reasons why I should and could stop breathing, yet, do I actually doubt the breath I take as I write this? No. Why? Because each breath strengthens my faith that the next one will certainly arrive.

The same is true for one’s faith in God. We can have faith in God because of His powerful work in our lives every day. Each day, God more than proves himself to us, by sustaining the earth to spin, the sun to rise and for breath of life to enter my nostrils, and as each breath builds upon the next, my faith should be ever growing. Think back in your life, how many times has God rescued you, saved you, strengthened you, protected you and blessed you? I challenge you to take a few minutes and write down the many times God has worked in your life over the last week and prepare to be astounded. What you will find is that the problem of faith lies in us, not God.  (Check back shortly for the conclusion: The Problem of Faith Part 2)

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