It’s About Kingdom Building

Click here to read Acts 23.

Paul is in a heap of trouble here. It seems the message of the gospel has touched a raw nerve with everyone he comes in contact with. Everyone, that is, except the Roman centurions watching set to watch over the apostle in chains.

In one of his letters to the Corinthian people, Paul tells them he has become all things to all people so that some may be saved. Paul is one who can learn the area, learn the people, and know what to say and how to say it to strike nerves. That is why he was able to give more defense of his work and insult the high priest (presumably not knowing who the high priest was).

The apostle is respectful of those in positions of authority and he shows it by apologizing and showing he knows, through scripture, how he is supposed to behave. He is masterful at gaining the rulers ears and attention and, at the same time, he is phenomenal at banding people together because of their hatred for him and the message of Christ he proclaims.

Several years ago, I bought the CD audio version of Dale Carnegie’s famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” This is a book I would like to re-read again someday in the future. This is a book I would recommend to you, if you haven’t read it yet.

One of the concepts I derived from listening was making sure people know why you do business with them (i.e. remind them what their good at) and then ask for what you are needing. I have learned that when people know you truly respect, not just use flattery, you can easily “win” people over. No, this is not manipulation. This is using Ephesians 4:29 into practice and applying it to everyday people’s lives.

It really is about finding the right people to talk with, to do business with, and to basically hang around that will help you get what you are needing. I know this can make it sound like this is all one sided; but it’s not because the other person has a chance to build a new relationship, gain business, and live with the joy of knowing they are doing what God has called them to do (as long as what they do helps to build society up and move it towards redemption and reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ).

Influencing people is where is gets more challenging. This would mean people have to have some sort of respect for you or what you stand for. Paul was masterful at influencing people to band together against him. Did they respect Paul? I think their respect for the power of God was greater and they were terrified to listen to how their lives were not meshing with the real God. The people were influenced by the fear of repentance that Paul was proclaiming.

Now it’s your turn. Think about who you’re influencing and how. Does your life, and your actions, work towards building people up to be who God created them to be? Remember, it’s not about getting what you want; it is all about allowing the Holy Spirit into our lives to mold us into the image and likeness of God through Jesus Christ.

It’s about building the Kingdom of God with God.

Ephesians 2:8-10 CEB

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith.  This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

REDEEMED: Out of Egypt

This week, I want you to think about what your defining story. This would be a story that defines your life journey from where you were to where you are, and are going.

The defining story of the Hebrew people is the Exodus, the escape from Egypt. I invite you to read the passage for this week, Exodus 12.

Now if you had a story like the Hebrew people, you would definitely remember what happened and how your past changed you into the person you are today. This is one of the things we should reflect upon during the season of Lent. When we remember where we have been, we keep in focus who we are being formed into. The question we need to keep thinking about is, “what are we being transformed into?”

The Israelites moved to Egypt as a family of 70 people (see Genesis 47-50) and grew into millions of people in the next 400 or so years (Exodus 1). There came a time when the Pharaoh of Egypt forgot about Joseph, the son of Jacob (Israel), and enslaved the Hebrew people for fear become too numerous and too powerful and they would take over the country of Egypt.

So, the Israelites were praying for deliverance from the oppression they lived in each and every day. There were times, I am sure, the people lost hope at times because their situation had not improved.

But God did not forget the people of Israel, and raised up a man of power to deliver the people of Israel out of the slavery of Egypt. This man was Moses. Moses was not who the Hebrews thought would be their deliverer; but God showed otherwise. God used Moses, who was raised as Egyptian royalty by Pharaoh’s daughter, and knew how to move through the governmental system to get to the right person, Pharaoh himself.

Moses was still not the right person in the Hebrew people’s eyes because he murdered and Egyptian for beating one of the Hebrew people. He had to flee because he was going to get found out. Moses ended up spending the next forty years in the desert as a shepherd.

When the time was right, God called to Moses and had him go back to Egypt. The unlikely person of Moses, now 80 years old, was going to lead millions of Hebrew people out of Egypt.

Whenever the Exodus story is told, they remember the faithfulness and power of the God who delivered them from slavery and lead them into freedom.

Now, what about your defining story? What was it you were enslaved to before you met Jesus Christ and lead into freedom and salvation (the presence of God). Or, what is holding you back from entering into the freedom God gives? What are you enslaved to? Addiction? Porn? Alcohol? Money? Fame? Pride? News? Self?

There are many things that can and do enslave us, especially when we allow ourselves to stay in that state of being. It can get so bad that we can lose hope that everything will not get better.

God constantly showed His people his faithfulness and His power throughout the Exodus redemption story. He does so today to. My friends, God has placed the right people in our lives to help us hear and experience His grace and His presence. He has been right there with you your whole life.

Because of the grace of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit we have the opportunity to fully experience and embrace love, mercy, grace, God himself. We are different after an encounter with God.

This week, as you take time to reflect on who you were before you met Jesus Christ personally, thank Him for changing your life and bringing your freedom. If you have not yet experienced grace, why not? Why would we allow ourselves, or other people in a state of life that is not joyful?

The story of God is written all through your life. How will you remember it? How will you tell it?

NOTE: This is based upon a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

I Believe This Involves Me

Ancient Creed, Living Faith Blog Series Part 5

I invite you to take time to read the scriptures today.

Romans 12:5

In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.

 

 

This is the final post in our series on the Apostle’s Creed. We have explored how this ancient creed still has great meaning to our lives even today. The topics we have covered include: believing in God, the Messiah, the victory of God, God’s presence in our lives, and today we look at believing all of this involves me and you.

Read the final sentence of this incredible creed:

I believe…the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen

Since our faith has been built upon the people before us, we have the opportunity and privilege of joining Jesus Christ, along with the saints of the past to live in the presence of God here and now AND in life everlasting. We are part of something much bigger than anything we can see or imagine right now.

We belong to a catholic (universal) church that is the body of Christ on this earth. If we take time to think about this, the body is in constant motion. We get to be part of making disciples, being on mission whether at work, in your community, or somewhere else in the world. This is not something we do on our own. It’s a good thing Christianity is not an individual faith because we could and do easily slip up or even become so disappointed we can’t fix everything. By the grace of God, we are all connected. We learn from each other, grow in our faith together, reach out into our communities, work, country, world together because we all have a part to play.

We are part of the saints. Saints in this sense are not the people cannonized to pray to; but rather people of the faith. The Apostle Paul writes his letters to the “saints” of the churches. These people were still alive on earth when he wrote. Every Christian is part of the sainthood. Jesus Christ comes into our lives and changes the core of who we are. No longer are we defined as a worthless sinner; but we are now saints, saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Living our lives in a manner we should involves accepting the forgiveness Jesus has offered to all people on the cross. Because Jesus Christ has defeated death and rose from the dead, we too will be able to experience resurrection and life beyond this life and live in life everlasting with him. This is a great hope we have because of our faith.

What a wonderful hope for us, to be part of the redemption story of God through Jesus Christ to bring healing and wholeness, reconciliation and redemption to a hurting and broken world that will one day be restored to God’s perfection. Heaven on earth will not just be a hope; but a physical reality. The Kingdom of God is here and now; but there will be a time when everyone will see it and believe it without question.

You are invited to print this out, place this creed in a spot you’ll see every day and recite daily.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 *Adapted from a sermon series idea “Ancient Creed, Living Faith” on www.seedbed.com

I Believe in the Relator God

Ancient Creed, Living Faith Blog Series Part 1

I invite you to take time to read the scriptures today.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

The Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32)

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

We are beginning a new series on the Apostles’ Creed. How many of us recite this creed week after week and haven’t thought about the meaning of the words in awhile? It is too easy to say the same thing week after week and not pay attention. But this creed has significant meaning still which should impact us on a daily basis. Over the next five weeks, I’ll invite all of us to recite this creed daily (found at the bottom of this post).

Today, we look at the first part: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;”

What does this mean to you? Think about the words “I believe.” This is what we usually use as a form of an opinion (i.e. I believe you will get a good grade. I believe this will happen. I believe (insert sports team) will win the game.). But, these words mean so much more than I think. Belief is actually placing the whole weight of who we are on the statement. Would you be willing to put the whole weight of your entire being on someone getting a good grade? Or even your favorite team winning?

Everything starts with God, the creator who created you and I out of love. God desires to love, so you and I exist. By creating the word, God revealed his all powerful nature. For us to see a larger scope of who God is, we get to look at the person of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus told this incredible parable (earthly story with a heavenly meaning) of the “Prodigal Son.” He told this story to the tax collectors and sinners that had gathered to hear him speak. This is an incredible story about the overwhelming love that God has for his creations, especially you and I. He gives all he can just so we can see how valued we are to him. Yes, we go off and do our own thing; but he is giving a chance to return to him. As we work on our confession and our sincere apology, God is coming toward us, giving us more than we ever dreamed of. More than we ever deserve.

The opening statement of the Apostles’ Creed is one that we cannot just pass over. God, the creator of the universe, created and has a special purpose and love for you and I that he cannot let go of. We are able to love because he desired and chose to love us first. I don’t know about you; but that is an incredible statement and truth.

The same God who set the universe into place, created the world and everything in it, took time to make you and I. When we take time to think about and embrace how much we are loved by the God, our worldview can and should shift to seeing God’s presence and handiwork all around us, especially his Holy Spirit within us.

 

You are invited to print this out, place this creed in a spot you’ll see every day and recite daily.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

*Adapted from a sermon series idea “Ancient Creed, Living Faith” on www.seedbed.com

More Than Words

Have you ever been told, “just pray about it?” I have told people this for years, especially when there is something of importance going on whether it be with vocation, relationships, new projects, etc. Prayer is one of the things that we know is important; but a great deal of us don’t really put too much thought into what we’re praying for or words that we’re saying.

Luke 11:1-13 shows Jesus’ disciples asking Him, “teach us to pray.” Yesterday, I asked the congregation, “have you asked Jesus to teach you to pray?” This is a very valuable question to ask; especially because this was a convicting question for me as well. If we can humbly go to Jesus Christ to teach us how to pray and listen for His answer, we can realize more and more the reality is we are communicating with God each and every time we pray.

To prepare for this message this past week, I read several commentaries and one thing stood out. One of the commentators for the United Methodist Church had this to say, “According to a Pew Research report, 55% of American Christians say they pray every day. These persons rely on prayer when making personal decisions, and consider prayer and essential part of their identity.” Isn’t this interesting. What I read in this is that 45% of American Christians do not feel they need to pray daily. My question is, how can someone have a real relationship with God if there is not constant communication. Before we get judgemental, I do believe there are people who do not pray because they do not believe God will answer their prayers.

The first thing to look at when we talk about prayer is Jesus gives us assurance that God not only cares about us, but He hears our prayers and does answer them. Luke 11:11-13 says, “Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

We all need assurance that God will answer our prayers, that our words do not stop at the ceiling. My guess is that we have all heard about three answers that God gives: Yes, No, Not Yet. These answers we can deal with; but there is a fourth answer we don’t seem to mention very much. That answer is “I have already given you an answer and am waiting for you to act.”

I remember, when I was a child and I would do everything I could do to find a favorable answer to a question. For many of us, it may be the case that we don’t like the answer God has given and we keep trying to get Him to change His mind or at least give us an alternative answer.

No matter what our response to the answers God gives us, we should still be assured that He does answer us. Because we can trust that God will answer our prayers, we should be open to the various ways He answers, oftentimes using other people around us.

The Gospel of Luke passage shows the disciples asking Jesus how to pray. A couple of things stand out when I read what has been called the “Lord’s Prayer.” One is that the normal things we end up focusing on some things and leaving out others. For example we’ll focus on the physical health or a person instead of the spiritual health. This is what I have called “organ prayers.” It is easier to pray for physical healing of body organs than for spiritual or emotional healing to bring a person to completeness and wholeness.

Jesus, on the other hand gives us, not just a script of what to pray, but for us to watch how we are praying and what we pray for. He is showing the disciples, which includes us today, that we should pray with the will of God in mind. Many of us have not taken the time to really think about these words. These are not “magic words” to get God to do our bidding. Instead, when we pray we’ll seek God and His direction.

Father, hallowed be your name: This is important so we remember who we are speaking with and to not use God’s name as something that is common or ordinary.

Your kingdom come: ushering in the kingdom of Heaven here on earth. Does our world look like, right now, how heaven will be? Not yet. There are many things that are still happening. The reality of the Kingdom of Heaven is here; but there is still the culmination of heaven being on earth full time that will eventually take place.

Natural disasters

Devaluing of human life

Distractions from our relationships

More concerned about the individual than the health of the community

not everyone knows Jesus Christ on a personal level

Give us this day our daily bread: completely dependent on God for all we need each day (goes against our individualistic do it by yourself mottos)

Think about Israelites wandering around in the desert and the manna from heaven who did not know where the food was coming from; but they trusted that God would provide each day.

Most of us don’t worry about where our next meal is coming from, or where we are going to get the next thing that we want

Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted (sinned against) to us: As a commentator notes, “Jewish teachings had already linked the necessity of forgiving others to one’s ability to receive forgiveness…the ability to forgive and be forgiven are part of the same gift.”

And do not bring us to the time of trial: “normal trials” for us may include traffic, rude people, sicknesses, anything like this.

  • also think about things that would hinder or harm your relationship with other people (family members included)
  • Consider to seek protection against things that will come between yours and God’s relationship

We pray for healing, for provision, for protection, for our relationships with other people AND with God

As we can see, it really is more than words when we speak to the Living God through prayer who can and will answer our prayers. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is basically praying this way:

“God, we honor you on earth more than we honor our own flesh and blood parents. Please come to rule our lives every day that we l have on this earth. Help us to not worry about the future. We ask only for enough bread to get through this day. Don’t forgive us our sins until we have found a way to forgive every person who has done us wrong. And please God, do not test our faith too much because we know that we are weak and that we will surely fail.”

May we all continue to develop our prayer life and seek the face and Kingdom of God daily.

Image of God

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NIV)

From the very beginning, human beings have been a unique creation and have had a unique role in caring for the earth. The sun, moon, land, fish, birds, animals, vegetation, all fill the earth; but humans were the only part of creation said, by God, were created in the image of God. Man and woman, as stated in Genesis 2, were created out of the same substances of the earth as the plants and other animals and living creatures; but something was different. God breathed the breath of life into him (Genesis 2:7)
What is the image of God? This is a question that has been discussed for many centuries. John Wesley described the imago Dei (image of God) using three dimensions: the natural image, the political image, and the moral image. It was the moral and natural images that Wesley discussed more often. “The natural Image of God in humanity referred to those characteristics or faculties definitive of being human, while the moral Image of God referred to the ‘character’ of holiness and love that God intended for humanity.” (Maddox 68) Humanity has been given the Image of God through the characteristics of God, such as love. The Image of God shows people how we are supposed to be in relationship to God, to other people, and to creation itself.

The idea that part of our identity is for us to be in relationship with God is important to understand why the Image of God is vital to our being. People were designed from the beginning to be in relationship. We are to be careful stewards of creation and to help build people up so they can experience a life with Christ. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)

The benefit of understanding what it means to be created in the Image of God gives more clarity and purpose for people. If we can understand our purpose, we understand why we were created. Many people do not have this kind of mindset, that they are made in the Image of God. 

Holiness is the main quality of God, so it is easy to think that we have to have everything perfect because God is perfect. This can create a skewed way of thinking and cause people to step off the path God designed for them or to create a false sense of who God is and how God works in the world. Throughout the scriptures, especially the Gospels when Jesus speaks of God, the Father, and the letters of John in the New Testament, God is defined as love. people are created to love God and love people. The Image of God imprinted in our souls shows us we are made to be in relationship with God. It is out of God’s love for us that we exist. It is out of God’s love for us that we can experience the feeling and lifestyle of ones who love others.

One of the fun ways to teach and talk about the Image of God with children is by asking them to use their imagination. It is fascinating to watch children begin to create new and interesting objects, or by watching them bring objects to life while they are playing. God has a great imagination and we can see this through everything that has been created. God is constantly up to something and is creating something new everyday. When the children have the opportunity to use their imagination, something new is created. 

God, in Genesis 1, had a grand imagination when the words, “let there be light” came forth and light happened. Then, carefully, planning and designing the rest of creation from the sky to the land to the plants, fish, and land animals, we can see God causing the plans and designs come to life. 

Teenagers begin to develop complexes about their appearance. The important thing we should always remember is to meet people where they are, so God can work in and through them in a new way. So, mirrors would be a good object to use. The reflection in the mirror is not the same as the actual person, but rather the likeness of the person looking into the mirror. Because of sin, there is a distortion (look through a broken mirror). We don’t always see the original image, but we do see pieces of the original image. 

As we look at ourselves in the mirror, do we always love what we see? No. We see the imperfections. We see our flaws. We see the places that “need” to be fixed or improved. Adults are very similar to teenagers in this fashion. Each one of us needs to understand that we are designed to be in relationship with God and this is the foundation of the Image of God within us. 

Since God is love (1 John 4:18), this is who we are as well. One of the best descriptions of love is found in the 1 Corinthians 13 passage. A challenge that has been used for teenagers and adults shows how we can misunderstand love. If we take the time to replace the word “love” or “it” in this passage with God we can see more of God and more of the character of God. We are all made in the image of God, so this means this is who we are supposed to be as well. The challenge comes in to play when we replace “love” or “it” with our name.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV)

Sin has caused us to fail in many of these areas. But God, has done something greater than we could have ever imagined. God has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth. He lived a life in perfect communion with His Heavenly Father so we can see first hand what God’s original intent for us was when humanity came into existence. It is through the lens of Jesus Christ that we can experience and see anew the Image of God imprinted on our hearts and lives: to be in relationship with God, with other people, and with creation.
Bibliography

Campbell, Ted. Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials. Nashville: Abingdon, 2011. Print.

González, Justo L., and Zaida Maldonado Pérez. An Introduction to Christian Theology. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002. Print. 

Maddox, Randy L. Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology. Nashville, TN: Kingswood, 1994. Print.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Print.