Friday, December 30, 2005

Considering Others

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb 10:24).

This verse was on my mind today. My own personal experience tells me that the more I consider others the more beneficial I am to them. If I think about my fellow believers and pray for them... if they are in my thoughts often, then when I see them I can more effectively spur them on toward love and good works.

How often do we really consider our fellow believers? Do we realize that one of the reasons we exist is to help others conform to Christ?

"To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me" (Col 1:29).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Purpose of "Church"

"His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph 3:10-11).

I was pondering Ephesians 3:10-11 this morning. I just have to say WOW! God is wonderful. Did you catch what the verse is saying? God has had a purpose for a long time: an "eternal purpose". The previous verse says that for "ages" the mystery of Christ had been hidden. At just the "right time" Christ came and died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6). And there was an eternal purpose for it all.

His intent, or purpose, according to Ephesians 3:10-11 was to make known his wisdom to the "rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms". Perhaps the "rulers and authorities" are angels, perhaps angels and demons. Either way, the church is supposed to live in such a way that it makes God look very wise. When people, or angels, or demons see God's people, functioning as "one body" (Eph. 3:6) they will say, "wow, God's ways are best; he is all-wise!" This is God's intent.

Yes, God also wants people to recognize his glory as they observe the church. He hopes that men would see the love of the church and then come to him. But his plan, his purpose, his intent is even greater than this. There are other observers, "rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms", who are looking on. And God has an eternal purpose that they will see his manifold wisdom through the church!

"To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen" (Eph 3:21).

Right now, in this generation (and in all generations), there needs to be glory coming to God as a result of the church. How ought God's people to conduct themselves? How ought they to love one another, to sacrifice for one another, to lay down their very lives for one another? If God's people REALLY believe that eternity is more important than temporary things, how will they live?

Later in Ephesians, God has a wonderful description of the church. It says very clearly why Christ died and what kind of church he is building:

Eph 5:25-27 ...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Is that your "church experience"? First of all, are you part of a "body"? Are you part of a "radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless? Literally. Practically. So that all the "rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms" will not be able to do anything but cry out, "God is wise!".

What is commonly called "church" falls so far short of these things! It is not God's will that we fall short! His will is that we display his wisdom by being a radiant church! Praise God that there is a remnant. There are people on earth today who are bringing God glory like Ephesians 3:10-11 says. But there are very few (Luke 13:24, Matt 7:14). Few churches would fit the Biblical description of being part of the "pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).

If you're reading this, I guess that I'm hoping that you will not make excuses and say that all these things are impossible and that God is hoping for something that won't happen. No, Jesus died for these things. And Ephesians 3:11 says that not only did he purpose or intend to receive glory through the church, but he also made it possible--he "accomplished" it through Christ! May he receive what he died for.

Eph 4:1 I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received

Col 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Monday, December 19, 2005

When Will the Kingdom of God Appear?

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20-21)

Someone quite angrily and rudely insisted to me that the "kingdom of God" is not now at all because it is only when Jesus comes and rules. So, I thought I'd write a little about my thoughts on "when" the kingdom of God is. I don't have many answers, so most of the time I'll just quote Jesus. :-)

Certainly, in the Bible there is a future sense in which the "kingdom of God" is used. Jesus talks of the 12 disciples sitting on 12 thrones. He talks of a big feast in the kingdom. These, and many other aspects of the kingdom, are obviously yet to come.

But there is also a present aspect of the kingdom of God. There is a sense in which it has begun already. Even as Luke 17:20-21 hints at (quoted above).

John the baptist hinted that the time was very near when he said, "The time has come, the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15). It was so near that Jesus could say, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power" (Mark 9:1).

Jesus told many parables about the kingdom of God. One of them is as follows:
Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' 28 "'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29 "'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'" (Matt 13:24-30 )

He explained the parable a few verses later:

He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear." (Matt 13:37-43)

Please notice the present and future senses of the kingdom of God in the words of Jesus. The good seed is being sown and there are present-tense "sons of the kingdom". There are weeds, an enemy, and a looking forward to the harvest. Notice that when the harvest, or end of the age, comes the kingdom is already there. Yet, there is still a future shining like the sun in the kingdom. But there is a kingdom already established and the angels are sent to weed out all who do evil out of it. Obviously, we are in the "phase" of the kingdom where there is a lot of sowing of seed. The enemy is lurking. We are looking forward to the harvest.

Hopefully it is clear what I'm trying to say. This blog has been emphasizing the present sense of the kingdom. Even as Paul wrote that we are already in the kingdom: "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves" (Col 1:13).

Well, there is much more to say, but hopefully everyone will get my point. And actually, what I am trying to write about on this blog isn't some theological treatise about what exactly the kingdom of God is and isn't and when and how.... There is MUCH that I don't understand. What I am trying to write about is how Christians are supposed to interact with one another right now.

Well, hope all that helps. Maybe I can refer you to all the parables in which Jesus describes the "kingdom of God". Come, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Why "Preaching" is Not Enough...

Most people realize that experience is more valuable than head-knowledge. If people want to become school teachers, they go to school to learn their subject matter AND they spend a lot of time visiting teachers’ classrooms. Before they graduate they must spend at least half of a year “student teaching” —- actually running a classroom under the close supervision of a teacher. It is during “student teaching” that every school teacher will tell you that he or she really learned how to teach. Sure, some of their university classes may have been helpful, but every teacher learns their “basic survival skills” during student teaching.

Someone who wants to be an engineer goes to a university to learn a lot of things, but when they are done if they want to get hired they had better have experience working as an engineer in the real world. If they are hired in as an engineer at, say, Ford Motor Company, they have a two year training program working side by side with other engineers to teach them how to be an engineer in the real world.

If someone wants to become a plumber, they do not even go to school for several years. Instead, they work side by side with a plumber for several years. Would you hire a plumber who had a four year “degree” in plumbing, but had never actually fixed a toilet?

Where am I going with all this? In the church world, it seems that many times we stop at the education phase. There’s lots of teaching a preaching; lots of books on almost every topic. People can become pastors with enough "education". It’s almost like we feel like we’ve done our job if we have taught people something. We feel like we’ve received what we needed from the church if we’ve received teaching from them. “Marriage counseling” has become a once a month “meeting” to discuss a few things. The person counseling has little knowledge of the couple’s real life and the couple has very little knowledge of what their “counselor’s” life is really like.

I have noticed that despite the increase in the amount of books and sermons on various topics, the quality of church life is not improving. Divorces continue in the churches. The youth in the “youth groups” continue to dress more and more according to the world’s pattern with shorter and shorter skirts, etc. Clearly, more books alone will not solve the problem. Teaching is good and necessary, but it is not the end all solution.

I have preached several times on topics such as child training and marriage and then in the days and weeks that follow, I have noticed that people’s lives do not change as much as I thought they would. There could be more than one reason for this, but one big reason is that teaching and preaching are not enough. What is more valuable -— hearing someone speaking about raising children or spending a weekend with someone who is very good at raising children?

If I teach something to the believers, I cannot simply conclude that the job is done. In essence, after speaking to them, I need to then walk with them in their lives side by side so that I can help them apply the teaching to their lives. After I receive instruction from others, I desire to have them help me apply what they have taught.

Jesus did the same thing. He said, “love one another as you have seen me loving you.” Paul often told his readers to remember is way of life, not just his words. Let’s help each other move beyond the “education phase” of life and get into the trenches together.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Seek First the Kingdom of God

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness..."

About a year and a half ago in May of 2004, I bought 4.5 acres of land halfway between Grand Rapids (where the believers are) and where I work. I would have a 20 minute drive to work and "only" a 20 minute drive to see believers. I had talked everything over with several of the brothers here and instead of living right in the town where I work, I decided to "sacrifice" so that I could be close to believers. I was seeking first his kingdom...

The house that we built was the perfect house for us. It had open spaces to promote togetherness in our family. We designed it so that we could have lots of people over for fellowship and even put a large parking pad on the side of the driveway. (By large, I mean large enough to hold about 10 cars.) I had all kinds of ideas of how living in the country would be good for my children; from raising chickens to chopping wood, I was going to teach them responsibility. We were seeking first his kingdom...

By the time the house was ready, one year ago, in December of 2004..... God made it clear to us that we should SELL it! "Oh no", was my initial reaction. Furthermore, God made it clear that we should move the city of Grand Rapids to be very near the believers. "Oh no." I didn't like the city! And I certainly didn't want a 40 minute commute to work. It was as if God was saying, "Nice try; you were trying to seek first my kingdom, but since your heart is right I'm going to lead you in such a way that you can seek first my kingdom the way I want you to."

I learned quite a bit about seeking first God's kingdom. Even though I thought that I had God's best in mind, I didn't go far enough. By May of 2005 God brought us to where we currently live--right in the city of Grand Rapids, about 2 miles from downtown. This was the last place I wanted to live.

But by the end of the summer, God had moved upon the other believers here to want to live closer together. And now we all live within 3 or 4 blocks of each other. Close proximity has really helped us to carry out sharing life ("fellowship") with one another in real, practical ways (see "Practical Daily Life in the Kingdom" Part 1 and Part 2 for examples).

And now, I really enjoy living here in the city! Wow! I am so surprised. But I have this strange peace and joy. I really like this house! But I NEVER would have designed a house like this. This is NOT what I THOUGHT I would like. But God knows best, that's for sure.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (Prov 3:5-6).

I had a lot to learn about what seeking first God's kingdom meant in that situation. And I suspect I have a lot more to learn!

Whoever is reading this, would you consider one thing? Do you go all out in pursuing the will of God? Empty yourself of your own thoughts and preferences and see if there's more for God to show you. You just might be surprised.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Contradictions in the Lives of "Christians"

“Not everyone who calls me, ‘Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father.”
--Jesus (Matthew 7:21)

Many people say that God is their first priority, but their lives testify otherwise. Jesus said that not everyone who calls him Lord will enter heaven. Doing God's will is the deciding factor. Let me jot down a few of the contradictions I've observed in peoples' lives. By the way, for the most part, I'm speaking from personal experience. All of the following things used to be true in my life. I thought I was following Christ, but he lovingly showed me I was not. Here goes...

Professing Christians claim that the Bible is the most important book in the world, but they spend more time watching TV than reading their Bibles.

Although the Bible says that complaining leads to destruction (1 Cor. 10:10), many people complain about their difficulties and even complain about the weather that God made.

Much of what entertains people on television is sin. In this world we will see sin occur around us, but should we deliberately put it in front of our eyes? Should we be entertained by it? Have you ever laughed at a sexually perverted comment that the movie calls "comedy"? God grieves and weeps at the sin, but many of his professed children laugh at it. Something is wrong!

Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 10 to freely give since they had freely received. Do you think Jesus would have been pleased if his disciples wrote memoirs of their experiences with Jesus and then sold copies of them for $14.95???? Isn't this what happens in modern Christianity today?

Many people in churches speak of peoples’ faults behind their backs. The Bible clearly forbids this.

I wonder if people would be honest and if you asked them what they truly enjoyed more: their sporting events or spiritual things? Are they more alert and excited during the 4th quarter or during a sermon or prayer or opportunity to witness on the street...

Many people are ashamed to share their faith. They might be ashamed at work, at the supermarket, or any other time. Sure, some are not ashamed. But some definitely are. "If you are ashamed of me and my words, I'll be ashamed of you."

Well, that's all I'll say for now. I don't want to be too "negative", but the truth sometimes hurts. I know that not all of these things apply to everyone. But whoever reads this maybe it'll help you take a good, hard, honest look at how you live. Do you live what you say you believe?

If we really believe that our lives are a drop in the bucket compared to eternity, how will we live? If we really believe that only what is done for God will last, how will we live?

“Will you come to my house and say, ‘We are saved,’ and then continue to do these detestable things? I have seen it!”
--God (Jeremiah 7:10-11)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Are God's Commands Too Difficult?

Before you begin reading this, would you please grab a Bible and be ready to look up the Scriptures I refer to? Thanks!

Within the pages of the Bible are some pretty intense descriptions of people who choose to follow God. These include denying one's self (Matt. 16:24, Luke 14:27), loving God above anything else (Luke 14:26, 33; Matt 22:37), and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22:39). If we have true faith in God, our faith causes changes in our lives. These changes are evidenced by what we do (James 2:14-16; Eph.2:8-10), what we think (Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:1-3; Eph. 5:23), what we say (Eph. 5:25, 29), and what we delight in or take pleasure in (Psalm 1:1-2; I Pet. 2:2, Matt 5:6). Through Christ we are dead to sin (Romans chapter 6) and our former way of life. By His grace, we are made free from sin (Rom. 6:18). Jesus is our example and we need to follow in his steps (I Pet. 2:21) and live like he lived (I John 2:6). Those who are in Christ are a new creation (II Cor 5:17) and we need to "...put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24). In Christ Jesus, we are created by grace to be righteous and holy through faith in him. We are told to forsake our life of sin.

Is Jesus's call too difficult? Is it too hard? For just any human being, it is too difficult, but a Christian has the Spirit of God. God's power is at work in us (Eph. 3:20). Through Christ, we ARE dead to sin (Rom. 6) and we ARE crucified with Christ; He lives in us (Gal. 2:20). So, I ask you this: is obeying God and overcoming sin in our lives too hard for us IF we have faith in him and trust in him (not ourselves)? Let's see what the Bible says:

Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your sould. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:29-30). Would you agree that Jesus' yoke is easy and his burden ligh t? From a human standpoint it may not seem like his yoke is easy. But what is a yoke anyway? A yoke is a device that holds two oxen together to plow a field; it has two large holes--one for each ox. If we take the spiritual yoke upon us that has one h ole for Jesus' head and one for ours, we must let him lead and give up our will. If we rebel, the yoke will pull at our neck and then it will hurt; but if we let him lead, He will guide us through the paths of righteousness (Psalm 23). Don't get the wron g idea: just because Jesus said his yoke was easy doesn't mean we won't suffer persecution. In fact, Jesus said that WE WILL go through trials but we can have peace in Him (John 16:33). He even gives us joy that enables us to rejoice at being counted wo rthy to suffer for him (Acts 5:41). Also, trials serve to perfect us (James 1:2-4). If we rebel against God, we will find that Prov. 13:15 is true: "Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard." So, the way of a transgressor is hard, not the way of the righteous. Saul (later named Paul) found the way of a transgressor to be hard when Jesus appeared to him and said that it was hard for Saul to kick against the goads (Acts 26:14). (An ox kicking against the goads was a Greek proverb symbolizing useless resistance; eg- the ox was only hurting itself.) It is hard to rebel, but IF we surrender our will and die DAILY to ourselves, it is easy to let him lead. We must continue to serve him and deny ourselves (Matt. 16:24) or else we will find ourselves fighting God. We WILL fall if we rely on ourselves. "Where fore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall" (I Cor. 10:12).

God's commands are not a burden to us, but rather a joy. "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (I John 5:3). And it is possible to keep his commands because as the very next verse in I John 5 states: "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (v.4). Have the faith to believe that his power works in us (Eph. 3:20) and you can and will overcome. "Take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish ALL the flaming arrows of the evil one" (Eph. 6:16). "Everything is possible for him who believes" (Mark 9:23). "I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST which STRENGTHENETH me" (Phil 4:13). "No temptation has seized y ou except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (I Cor. 10:13).

Rely on God to help you take the way out of EVERY temptation. He is a faithful God. "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and HE WILL DO IT." I Thess. 5:23-24

Please, don't accept less than what God has for you.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Big Tent Revival

A couple years ago I was at big tent revival meeting. Before the revival meetings actually began, people would gather and pray that God would use the meetings. We would pray early in the morning and then go back home. Then we would come early before the meeting and pray together some more. The atmosphere was very sober and we were waiting expectantly for God to use the meetings to accomplish Great things for his Kingdom.

Another time, I was at a church building and many of the men of the church were down in the basement praying together before the service. I remember taking particular note of the fervency of the prayers. Men were crying out to God that he would use the meeting that was ready to begin in a few minutes. “Lord, give the preacher words for us.” “Lord, please have your way with the service today.” Many heartfelt, sincere prayers went up to the Lord that day.

And then it hit me. Do I take spiritual matters this seriously only at times like these? How fervent are the prayers before we go off to work? Why don’t we ever get up early and pray with others before we begin our workday? How much to I look for and eagerly expect God to work in my day TODAY????

Yes, the revival meetings were special, but I couldn’t escape the reality that every day is an opportunity to glorify His name. God wants all of our time, all of our hearts, all of us. He wants to use us for his kingdom. He wants to use our “normal”, everyday lives. He wants our lives to be so full of him, that when the squeeze of everyday life hits us, Jesus comes out and others see it.

It’s fine to be excited about something “special” God may be doing, but let’s not forget the opportunity of everyday life. But this requires absolute surrender, complete dedication to doing God’s will and not our own. Let’s not forget that every single day we have an opportunity to be a testimony for Christ whether we testify to men or to principalities in the heavenly realms. More on this later…

“God’s intent is that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 3:10).