A. D. The Kingdom of God

All throughout the Gospels you hear about the Kingdom of God. John the baptist is the first to preach about it saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt. 3:2) After His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus began to preach the very same thing saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." To say that something is at hand means it is very near, or close. Something that is at hand is imminent; it's about to happen. John, the forerunner, and Jesus, the Christ both preached that the kingdom of God or heaven is at hand.

KingdomofGod

This Sunday, we will begin a series in the book of Acts about the kingdom of God. You see, a kingdom is king's domain. It refers to the place or territory where a particular person is king. So what place or territory is God the king of? It is obvious for us to say heaven. It is also obvious for to say God is technically King and Lord over everything. But what place on earth is God treated at King? The answer is His Church. Jesus told His disciples in Mark 9:1, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power." The disciples, with the exception of Judas, were going to get to see the kingdom of God come with power. If you fast forward to Acts 1:8, Jesus tells his disciples, "You will receive POWER when the Holy Spirit has come upon you..." If you connect those two verses what even ushers in the kingdom of God? It is the coming of the Holy Spirit.

So for the several weeks, we will be looking at the kingdom of God. We will be looking at how Jesus continued to work throughout the book of Acts and how He continues to work in the Church today. I hope you will join us on Sunday mornings as we study the Church, God's Kingdom.

Prayer: Seeing the Lost

How often do we pray for our lost friends and family members? How often do we pray for those who are lost that we don't know? In Matthew 9:36-38 Jesus sees a crowd of people following Him and has compassion for them. If we are following Christ and becoming more like Christ, then we should have compassion for the lost just like He did.

See the Lost
We need to realize that we will never be able to truly have compassion for the lost in this world until we see them the way Jesus does. Jesus saw them as "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Until you see the people of this world as helpless and harassed you will never love them. We need to realize that the people who practice wickedness in the world only do so because they think that it will meet a need. They're harassed by their flesh and what it tells them they need. They are harassed by the Devil and what he says that they need. And they are harassed by the world and what it says they need. They go from fad to fad seeking pleasure and joy only to find that each of those things will eventually run dry and leave them wanting. We do the same thing when we get caught up in the things of this world. They are enticing, but we must remember that the LORD promised us life, and as long as we are following Him, we will have life.

Work the Harvest
Jesus didn't tell His disciples that the "harvest was plentiful, but the laborers are few," just so that they would go out and tell people to get to work. They needed to realize that they needed to be working. Many of us will think that someone else could do it better. And while that may be true, you are the one that God has placed in that situation. The harvest is wherever we are. We go to work, we are in the harvest. We go to the store, we are in the harvest. We go out to eat, we are in the harvest. We need to be mindful that we are always in the harvest. There is no place where we can say there is no work to be done. Jesus calls us to see the harvest so that we will get out and work it.

Pray for the Lost
Jesus tells His disciples to pray earnestly for the harvest. Pray earnestly means all the time. We need to make a daily practice of praying for the lost. We need to pray that God would reach out to them. We need to pray that God would use us. Remember Isaiah when God asked for someone to go. Isaiah jumped up and down and said, "Here I am, send me!" We need to be like that with the lost. We need to be like that with all the work of God. We need to be the over eager man or woman that can't wait for an opportunity to serve God.

The Reality
The sad truth is that many would rather go to heaven on their lazy boy. My fear is that they missed part of the gospel. We were saved from darkness. Any other time that we have had bad consequences from something physical, we are quick to share that with others so that they don't make the same mistakes that we did. But when it comes to salvation, we don't want to offend anyone, so we just let them march to their doom. Instead of looking for the harvest, we try to avoid it. We see wickedness and we turn the other way. Instead of working, we wait for someone else to do the job. And instead of praying for them, we just hope they figure it out. We need to change. We need to see the lost as God sees them. We need to have compassion and care for them. We need to work to see them saved. It won't be easy, but it's worth the work. We need to pray for them so that God would move on their hearts and draw them to Himself.

I challenge all of us to make a daily practice of praying for all of the lost that we know. Make a list and bring those names before the LORD in prayer.

Prayer: Confessing our Needs

What should we pray for? I want to take a few weeks to answer this question. One of the things that we need to pray for is our needs. We need to confess our needs to God. While Matthew 6:32 reminds us that God already knows what we need, we need to confess those needs to Him. The more I pray the more I realize that prayer is not for God's benefit, but ours. When we pray, we aren't telling God anything new. He does know everything. When we pray, we realize just who we are.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can look at our prayer life and learn much about our relationship with God. We could ask ourselves is God just our genie that we call upon when we need help. We rub the lamp of prayer and bring God out to take care of needs as they arise. Maybe we leave Him in if we know we won't like His opinion on the matter. We could ask ourselves if God is a Father that we humbly come to knowing that He loves us. There's a difference. One person asks God for something, but in reality they are demanding it. The other person asks God for something knowing that He will allow them to have it if it is good for them.

In Matthew 7:7-11 Jesus tells us that if we ask for it we can have it, if we knock on a door then it will be opened to us, and if we seek something then we will find it. He continues by relating this to a father and son relationship asking fathers, "If your sons ask you for bread, will you give them a stone? Of if they ask for a fish, will you give them a serpent?" That is a paraphrase by the way, but Jesus finishes by telling them, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" Jesus' point is that God will always give us what we ask for if it is good for us.

So the next question is why don't we have good things? God says in Isaiah 55:8, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways..." We don't see things the way God does. And the eyesight problem is ours not His. We see things the wrong way. Things that we think are good may actually be bad for us. Sometimes we ask for good things for the wrong reasons. For instance:  maybe we ask God to give us a better job so that we can be more financially stable, but God knows that by giving us that job we will become so comfortable that we will no longer see a need for Him. Then we will stop serving Him, which is bad for us. It looks good, but it's bad. Maybe we want God to heal us from some sickness, but God knows that this sickness will deepen our relationship with Him as we have more time to slow down and read His Word. Maybe this habit will stick with us after our sickness and make us into better Christians. It looks bad at first for us to have to deal with this, but it is good. Maybe we pray for God to spare taking one of our loved ones away, but the death of that loved one will turn a long lost soul back to Christ. I'm not saying that we shouldn't pray for these things. I'm saying that we should pray for them and give them to God trusting that He will always do what is best.

The act of confessing our needs to God is removing weight from us. We have a need or a burden. We come to God in prayer and confess it. By confessing it, we give it to God. AND we let Him keep it. The problem is that we like to take it back. If we actually were to leave it with God, then He would take care of it however He saw fit. That's where real prayers of faith come in. We pray in faith, not that God is going to do whatever we ask Him to do, but that God is always going to do what is best.

So pray, confess your needs to your loving Father, knowing that He will always handle them better than you. His thought are higher than ours. They are better than ours. His answer may not seem good at the time, but you will see it in time. 

"Tell Me How You Really Feel."

Me:  "Father, I thank you for this day. It has been great serving you today. You are wonderful and awesome. I pray that you will continue to be with me as I go throughout the rest of my day. Oh, and thank you for this food. Bless it to the nourishment of my body, and bless my body so that I may do your service."

God:  "That's great, but tell me how you really feel."

If we are honest, we have all been guilty of this at some point or another. We pray what we know we should pray. We pray what we have heard others pray, And when all is said and done, God just wants us to be real with Him. If you had a bad day, tell Him. If you had a good day, tell Him. If you are upset or depressed, tell Him. If you are happy, tell Him. We get so wrapped up in being fake to God that He might as well not be real to us. We are usually honest with our closest friends, so there is a problem with our spiritual life when we are more honest with people than we are with God.

I love the Psalms. Many of them are happy, but some of them you feel like you have to reread. The writer of the 10th Psalm talks about God hiding Himself in times of trouble. Have you ever felt that way? You could be having the best of days and ten minutes of the evening news could bring any of us to say, "God, why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" Maybe we don't talk like that, but we have all probably said, "Where are you, God?" The Psalmist talked about the wicked prevailing with no opposition from God whatsoever. I believe it is okay to tell God when we feel like that, but note that the Psalmist doesn't stop there. Look at His final words:

The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from His land. Oh LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
-Psalm 10:16-18

The important thing to remember when we pray is God's Word on the matter. While we should come to Him with our burdens and pain, we should also come to Him proclaiming the precious promises that help us deal with these situations. David writes a similar Psalm in Psalm 13. He asks God, "Will you forget me forever?". He talks about having sorrow in his heart all day, but he ends saying, "But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me." Again David is honest about how he feels, but he reminds himself of who God is and what He has done for Him.

Maybe you don't think you can talk to God when you're angry. In between Psalm 136 (His steadfast love endures forever) and Psalm 138 (Give thanks to the LORD), we find Psalm 137 which ends with, "Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!" In case you missed that, they just prayed a blessing on anyone who would take a Babylonian child and smash its head against a rock. How can someone pray that? The Babylonians did the same thing to their kids. They were angry. We would've prayed for the same thing. It is okay to hate certain situations. It is even okay to be honest with God and pray what you wish would happen. But eventually, we will need to come to a place of forgiveness. We will eventually have to entrust the hard things of life into God's capable hands.

Maybe you're struggling with sorrow, stress, anger, or even sin, and you don't know how to talk to God about it. Maybe you're afraid of how He'll respond when you tell Him about it. I've been there and what I've learned is that God already knows. You telling Him doesn't change how He feels about it; it allows Him to handle the situation. Prayer isn't for God; it's for us. It's the place where we can come to God and say how we really feel about something and trust that He isn't going to give us the strength to get through it.

I can't do this!

In the stillness of a closet I cried, saying over and over again, "I can't do this." On December 11 of last year, my world was changed. My wife and I welcomed our daughter into this world. For most of the day it felt like I was watching someone else's life. It wasn't sinking in that this was my life. This was my child. I was now a father.

During the course of the day, our daughter kept coughing up this fluid. This wasn't unusual, she was supposed to be doing this. But that evening she began to try to cough it up, and to me it didn't seem like it was going to come up. She began to turn red trying to cough it up and it scared me to death. This was unknown territory for me. I didn't know what to do. I'm the kind of guy that likes to be able to fix things. I couldn't fix this. And that thought scared me. It was in that moment that it hit me. I was a her father. I wanted to be able to protect her from all things, but there are some things that are out of my control. She did cough it up finally. Just not as quick as I wanted her to.

After this episode, I tried to regain my composure. I was quiet. My wife kept asking me if I was going to be okay. Finally, I went into a closet and just cried. To be honest, that's what I had wanted to do all along, but I was trying to be a man. I sat down in that closet, and I broke down and cried. I spent most of the time confessing to God that I couldn't do it. Up until that time, I knew that I was going to be the best dad in the world. I had watched Courageous, I had been to family ministry conferences, I had read books on how to be a great dad, and I just knew that I was going to be awesome. But in that moment, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to do it on my own. I needed my daughter's heavenly Father to guide me. I needed to trust Him to take care of her when I couldn't. I needed to believe that He would always do what was best for her. This didn't meant that I would just take my hands off of the wheel, but that I would always do whatever God asked me to do knowing that He knew the best way to take care of her.

Now for you who are reading this, it may not be an emotional moment with your inability to take care of your child. It may be finances, illness, family issues, or something else. But whatever brings you to the place of weakness can always be handled through time with God. The morning after this episode, I woke up with an overwhelming feeling that everything was going to be okay. I sat down with my daughter and read the 139th Psalm to her. I was reading it to her as a reminder to her that she was "fearfully and wonderfully made." What's amazing is that I wasn't reading that to be a blessing to her, God wanted me to read that to her so I would hear His words for me. The whole Psalm talks about God's presence with us and His knowledge of all that we are going through now and all that we will go through later. God wanted to remind me that all the while I was afraid, He was there with me.

So next time you are filled with fear or overwhelmed with the burdens of this life, remember that God is with you. Take time to talk with Him, and He will comfort you with His presence.

Somebody's Wrong

I was studying David this week and came across a very interesting story. In 1 Samuel 23 David helps Keilah, a city of Judah. Keilah was besieged by the Philistines. David was initially worried about going to help the city because he didn't want Saul to find him. Verse 4 says that David inquired of the LORD and the LORD told him that the Philistines would be delivered into his hand. David was always seeking God's will on these things. He knew it was God's will for him to go down to Keilah to fight the Philistines.

The good news of this story is that David defeats the Philistines and saves the city, but unfortunately Saul finds out that David is in Keilah. Saul responds to this news by saying, "God hath delivered him into mine hand; for he is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars." Saul thought that God had delivered David into his hand. So was it God's will for David to be sent to Keilah so that Saul could capture and kill him? Let's look at the rest of the story.

David, realizing that Saul was coming for him, inquired of the LORD again. This time he asked God if the city, which he had just saved, would surrender him over to Saul. God replied that they would surrender him to Saul. Thanks alot, Keilah. Obviously, David then flees to the wilderness of Ziph, where Saul will continue to pursue him later.

As I wrote in the title, somebody is wrong. It can't be God's will for David to be delivered into Saul's hand and for David to be warned so that he can flee. How do we know which one is right? The answer relies on one question, who actually talked to God? Did David talk to God? Verses 10 and 11 read, O LORD God of Israel, thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake. Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? Will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard? O LORD God of Isreal, I beseech thee, tell thy servant. Sounds like he talked to God. But talking to God and talking with God are different. Talking with God requires listening to Him as well. So did God respond? God first answers in verse 11 that Saul will come down and again in verse 12 that the people of Keilah would deliver him unto Saul.

Now let's look at Saul. Did Saul talk to God? Saul says in verse 7, God hath delivered him (David) into mine hand. Hmmm? I don't think Saul talked to God at all. He made an assumption about God. That assumption was that God would do whatever Saul thought was best for himself. Thankfully, we are smarter than Saul. We never assume that God's will is meant to match up with what we think is best for us. Right? Unfortunately, that's not always the case. We do have a tendency to assume we know God's will without consulting Him. 

So how do we know if something is God's will? Same way David did; we talk with God. "Thank you, Thomas, but what if He doesn't respond. God talked back to David, but He doesn't always talk back to me." The truth is that most of the answers we are looking for can be found in God's Word. We either don't want to take the time to look for them or think critically about it, or we already know what the Bible says and we're hoping that God will switch things up for us. So whatever the decision may be, God's Word probably already has the answer for it or the principle that you can use to figure it out. 

 Have you ever assumed you knew God's will? How did that work out for you? We tend to make God's will something of a mystery, but God's Word reveals so much to us. What are some things that God has revealed to you about His will through His Word? Feel free to respond and share on the blog page or the Facebook page. 

Tearing Down Pedestals

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I have struggled lately with the idea of pedestals, not physically, but mentally. There are people that I have placed on pedestals that I thought could not fail. I didn't think they were perfect, but I definitely put a great deal of faith in them. The problem is that when they failed, I was discouraged. I thought to myself, "If they failed, then there's no way I will ever succeed." I have also struggled with the idea of placing myself on a pedestal. I'm not saying that I think I'm better than anyone, but that I am aware that there are people watching me. The thought of that terrifies me because I know I'm far from perfect.

My conviction lately has been this idea of tearing down pedestals. I am aware that as a pastor I am supposed to be above reproach. I also know that we are all supposed to be an example of Christ in that we represent Him in this world. What I'm saying is that we have to make sure we keep our focus in the right place. Jesus has to be the only one on a pedestal. Nothing and no one can effectively take His place, and no one should try to take His place. Paul struggled with this same thing in Corinth. People were arguing about who was better, Paul or Apollos. The followers of Paul took pride in following Paul, and the followers of Apollos took pride in following Apollos. 

Paul writes to them in 1 Corinthians to say that God is the one who matters. He reminds them in 1 Corinthians 3: 9 that they are all "God's fellow workers,...God's field, (and) God's building." And we too are God's fellow workers, God's field, and God's building or His Church. Nothing and no one can take His place. We are all God's workers. Billy Graham and 10 year old Billy in the pew at your church are equal in the kingdom of God. I encourage you to tear down your pedestals. We can definitely still learn from one another. I'm not condemning that. But as much as is possible don't just follow people. Don't place your hope and trust in people alone, but in Christ alone. People will fail you, I will fail you, but God will never fail you.

Pastors and leaders, we must always strive to point people to Christ. If we only give our opinion, then people will follow us. If we share and speak God's Word, then people will follow God. While Paul said people should follow him, he was quick to add "as I follow Christ." We are not meant to lead people to follow us, but to follow Christ.

Anyone reading this needs to make sure that Christ is the only one they place on a pedestal. He is the only one who is perfect. He is the best example to follow after. He is the only one we should trust. We don't have to question His command; we can always listen and obey Him. He will never fail us.

Think of the pedestals that you have set up in your life, and tear them down. Feel free to comment here or on the Facebook page about pedestals that we setup in our hearts.

Divergent

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(Warning:  this contains spoilers about the movie Divergent) I was watching the movie Divergent last night and it sparked a thought in my mind. For those who have no clue what Divergent  is about, it is set in a post world war Chicago. The city has survived for many years after it has developed a test that tells you what you are going to be and do. Now the test doesn't force you to pick a job, or faction, but you'd be crazy not to pick what the test told you that you were. There are five different factions:  the intellectuals, the warriors, the selfless, the peaceful, and the honest. A faction, in this movie, is a group of people who live and work together. They are grouped together based on the results of their testing. The honest ones live with the honest ones, and likewise with the rest of the groups.

The main actress in the movie, Beatrice, goes in for the test, but the test doesn't work for her. The test says that she is actually meant for three different factions. This is where the name "divergent" comes from. Divergents are those who do not fit the mold of the test. They think differently than the rest of the world. In an effort to hide herself, she chooses to be in the warrior faction. While in training she eventually learns that she isn't alone. Four (his real name is Tobias, but this is what he goes by in the movie), is also divergent. He wants to be divergent. In a conversation with Beatrice he reveals a tattoo on his back that has all the symbols of all the factions. He tells her that he wants to be brave, selfless, kind, honest, and smart. He doesn't just want to be one thing.

There are many ways that this movie could be used to illustrate the Christian life, but I want to share just one. When you look at the different factions, you see different qualities possessed by different people. The divergents possess more than just one of the qualities, and Four actually wants to possess all of them. This reminds me of the the Fruit of the Spirit that Paul talks about in Galatians 5:22-23.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; agaist such things there is no law.

The way the fruit of the Spirit works is all or nothing. You don't pick and choose which of the qualities you are going to possess. If we actually let the Holy Spirit guide us and teach us as we read God's Word, then we will begin to posses more and more of each of the qualities and become better and better at each of them. A mark of a true Christian is growth. We never think I'm as loving as I'm ever going to be; we become more and more loving as we grow in Christ. The same goes for the rest of the qualities mentioned. So, like Four, we should desire to possess all the qualities that the Spirit wants to bring into our lives.

This doesn't mean that we need to try to be more loving or joyful and so on, but that we need to submit to the Spirit and let Him help us. If we let the Holy Spirit live within us, then He will naturally produce these qualities in us. That's the beauty of the Holy Spirit. He makes us to be what we couldn't be on our own. We need to let the Holy Spirit move in our lives, and we need to let Him make us divergent.

 

Transformation: Becoming What We're Meant To Be

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

I was reading Radical by David Platt the other day and I came across a surprising story. He told a story about a ship that was built in the 1950s. The ship was known as the SS United States. In the 50's, she was the fastest ship on the planet. She could be anywhere in the world in less than 10 days. She could transport 15,000 troops. She could also go 10,000 miles without stopping for fuel and supplies. She was a very impressive ship, built to transport soldiers.

The surprising thing is that she was never used for that purpose. She was put on alert in the 60's during the Cuban missile crisis, but she was never used for her intended purpose. Instead, she was converted into a luxury liner for presidents, heads-of-state, celebrities, and other wealthy individuals who could pay the fare. In her 17 years of service she was never used for the her purpose. 

The sad thing is that this could be said of many of our churches. Instead of training disciples of Christ, we're country clubs for those who fit in. As members we want to make sure the church is taking care of us, and as leaders we want to make sure we're taking care of our members. Not that we shouldn't take care of each other, but that's all we're concerned about. We make sure church is a fun place to hang out with friends and family. We schedule fun events and ,from time to time, we participate or organize charity events to reach out into the community to show that we care. Instead of asking people to sign up to serve Christ, we ask people to join the club. To put it bluntly, we are being "conformed to this world."

Obviously, that's not what Christ intended for His church to be. I'm not saying that any of these things are bad in and of themselves. It's great to spend time together as a church and have fun, but again, that's all that we are doing most of the time. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus wrote that even the gates of Hell wouldn't be able to stop the church. I remember the first time I truly understood that passage. Greg Hollifield was preaching on this particular passage. He pointed out that gates don't move. Therefore, Hell isn't attacking us, we're attacking it. We're going into enemy territory and trying to convert and bring back people to our side.

When you read the book of Acts, the church isn't sitting still and having parties. They're reaching out. Mission works are starting. People's needs are being met. The church is growing exponentially. The Christians are giving sacrificially. The church is being persecuted. Now before we say Christians have freedom and we don't have to endure persecution, I wager that we aren't suffering persecution because we're not really acting like the church. We're afraid to hurt people's feelings by telling them they need to follow Christ. We don't want to get immoral activist groups after us because we tell the truth. When Christians suffer because they refuse to go along the political correctness of this world, where are we. In our churches praying that we never have to deal with that.

Just think about how different the world would be if we actually asked people the hard questions. Do we ask people is they are really followers of Jesus Christ? Do we ask people if they live daily for Him? Do challenge people to make more than a verbal commitment and choose to surrender their lives to serve Christ? Or are we afraid to do that because we aren't really following Christ like we should. I'm not trying to make us feel guilty so we will serve Christ more. I'm trying to point out that we all have blind spots, places in our lives where we could be better.

Paul pointed out that transformation comes from a renewal of the mind. That renewal comes from reading God's Word. As we spend time with God in His Word, He changes us more and more into the likeness of His Son. That's what we are meant to be, God's children. And as we are being transformed, our churches will begin to be transformed into a gathering of God's children boldly serving Him in this world. My hope is that one day, we will be so bold that the world has no clue how it's going to stop us, and by us I mean God. In the end, every movement forward to serve God is done by God. He just asks for willing servants.

So are you conforming to the world, or are you letting Christ transform you into His child? What are some ways in which the church can be better at being the church it is meant to be? What do you think are some things that are hindering the church from being what it is meant to be?