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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

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.

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!

Fact or Fiction?

Many of you may not know this about me, but for the past 3 years I have preached on Sunday mornings at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. During my hour long service the Gospel is preached and many lives are changed, people giving their lives over to the healing, cleansing, and saving work of Christ. One of the most enjoyable times for me is the question and answer portion where I open it up to any questions regarding God. Many people attend the service who are not Christians, in fact, I have many professing atheists or agnostics that come to church and I look forward to them engaging with me during the question and answer time. This week an important question was asked; “You don’t really believe the stories in the Bible do you?”

Before I get to the answer we have to lay a foundation. This is an essential question to anyone’s faith. Can you believe what is written in the Bible or is it just a collection of bedtime stories that we tell children before they go to bed, a sort of Aesop’s Fables with a good moral application? How can a person be expected to believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead if they can’t believe that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish? I think it is more than reasonable for a person to doubt the validity of the Bible but what is unreasonable is for a person never to pursue their doubts about the Bible. The Bible rests completely upon it’s claim that it truly is the Word of God. It cannot be “mostly” true, if part of Scripture is wrong what’s to prevent all of it being that way? Scripture is simply either Fact or Fiction.

So I asked the gentleman to give me an example of a story he did not trust. “Noah’s Ark” he replied. “You actually believe that the whole earth was covered in water? I think that’s completely absurd.” My answer was rather straightforward, “What about the people who were living 4 miles from the coast in Japan last week, I’m pretty sure they thought it was absurd that a wall of water 30 feet high swept away their homes, cars, places of business and for some their very lives.”

You see, the fact of the matter is that we dictate to God what we feel is possible or not. The Bible tells us for 40 days the flood kept coming upon the earth. Think about that for a moment, 40 days of rain, floods and tsunamis. I saw the power of one tsunami over the course of an hour, can I even begin to fathom what the earth would look like after 40 days of that type of devastation? Yes, you can believe the Bible. And for a book that has been constantly under attack for the last 2,000 years, I think it’s made a pretty strong case for itself as Fact, not fiction.

(Please pray for those still suffering from the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11th. You can read the story of Noah’s Ark in Genesis 6-9.)

One of the easiest ways for someone to see culture captured in a microcosm is for one to make their way down to the local theater and catch a movie. My wife and I decided to have a little date night and watch “Battle: Los Angeles” (I know…she’s awesome) and see what the newest installment of Hollywood’s take on “end of the world” scenarios would entail. Basically, the movie involves earth being attacked by an unknown alien force systematically wiping out humankind. All that stands between life and annihilation is a small squadron of Marines that eventually bear the burden of being the last hope of mankind. Surprisingly, what I ended up taking away from the film was one rather nagging question, where is our hope?

Think about this for a moment, how does Hollywood attract the crowds week after week? By giving people the one thing which they lack so much in every aspect of their daily lives…hope. For most of the movie I couldn’t help but feel dread completely overwhelming me, we were outgunned, outmanned and completely outmatched. Yet, at that moment when I felt all was lost came the faintest glimmer of it…hope. And rightfully so, why would anyone watch a movie that wasn’t brimming with hope? Take your favorite movie and remove every aspect of hope from it and what does that leave you with? For most, a haunting silhouette of everyday life, a life replete with problems and pain but lacking in any true hope.

The very real truth of the matter is this, life without hope is truly not life at all. And as a movie without a hero becomes unwatchable, so life without hope becomes unlivable. So the question is this, where is your hero and what is your hope? The hopes of men are fleeting and the heroes of men are merely mortal but there is One in whom all our hopes should lie. The One who bore the burden for all mankind, the very Son of God who was nailed to a tree, to be our hero, to be our Savior. Jesus Christ, whose death brought life and whose life brings hope.

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