Thursday, January 27, 2011

Perspective . . .


From a web page copyrighted by Michael Richmond under Creative Commons License. 
This morning, during Family Worship, we got to the middle of Acts 4. Peter and John have just been threatened by the powerful religious people, and warned not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. They have replied with that line that I hope always marks my life, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19).

Afterwords, they leave and go to their friends and report what the chief priests and elders said to them. Acts 4:24 records the beginning of the response of them all: And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, . . ."

The prayer goes on about how gentiles and kings and rulers plotted in vain and set themselves in vain against the Lord, and how God brought His will to pass in the life of Jesus despite all their efforts. Then, at the end of the prayer, for the last two of seven verses, they made their request, "And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus" (Acts 4:29-30).

It struck me how, faced with overwhelming odds and obstacles in the physical world, they didn't all immediately beginning bemoaning their situation, or crying out for help, or talking negatively, or sagging their heads in hopelessness, or praying about their problem and how huge it was. Instead, they began exalting God and making praises to Him about how He made all of Creation and how nations plot in vain against Him. They did this for 5/7 of their prayer! Then, almost as a tag at the end, they make their request.

It reminds me of David, faced with Goliath. He didn't try and talk down or deny Goliath's obvious strengths, "You aren't really over nine feet tall! You don't really have armor! You don't really have an armor bearer! You aren't really a great warrior!" No, instead, David just went right past Goliath to One who was bigger than him—to the One who, against all earthly odds, delivered to David the wild animals threatening his father's sheep. He didn't deny Goliath's strengths, or focus on Goliath's strengths—he just focused on His mighty God, Deliverer, and walked with confidence in spite of Goliath's strengths.

I find that facing obstacles as Christians isn't about denying the obstacle, but about reminding ourselves of who our God is. As I shared at our Family Worship, when you start to praise God and focus on how mighty and huge and powerful He is it seems to automatically put the other things in proper perspective. We can lose sight of our God, and things of the earth become bigger than they should be. Sometimes we need to sit back, be still, and know that He is God!

When I get overwhelmed, or things are pressing in, I will often step outside and look up at the stars. I will remind myself that I am only seeing a fraction of them, that most of them would make the earth look like a golf ball next to a house, that they are so far away that the distance is unfathomable to me, and that my God breathes them out, puts them in place, and knows them all by name . . . and that He knows the number of hairs on my head, and loves me enough to die for me. It is wonderful the peace that most often accompanies those moments. It is not that the problem on earth changed any, it is just that I put it all back in to perspective.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wish You Were Here . . .

I love my bride!
 The heart of this blog has been to not just share things God is showing me, but also thoughts, reflections, and "slices" from our life. In the heart of that I wanted to just share an evening we had the other night, and to say to all of you, "Whether I have met you or not, thanks for reading and sharing and being a part of my life. I wish you could all share our firepit or screen porch or wood stove (which one depends on the season) with us in person!"

For Christmas a couple we are good friends with gave our family a certificate from a "local" grocery store, and we went there the other day to stock up. We have been having unseasonably warm weather here (please pray for lots of rain for us—we really need it), and we wanted to have a special evening around our firepit with the girls. The store had some good looking ribs on sale and we picked up a small rack of them.

Good coffee, good fire, good food, great family, Great God!
When the right night came we lit up our firepit, got a good bed of oak burning, and cooked ribs and a baked potato over the open fire, finishing it with grilling some broccoli when the meat was almost ready. As we sat and enjoyed the meal together the evening got dark and the stars came out and we enjoyed a sweet time, telling stories, laughing, marveling at God's creation and the heavens, trying to find the frogs that were sounding off around us, and keeping the cats from sneaking up on the meat tray when we weren't looking. At times coyotes would call out from the surrounding hills, and an occasional cow would moo or bellow from a distant ranch.

At the end of the evening Bethany and I walked down our driveway, away from the light of the fire, and found the Big Dipper and then, using it as our guide, the North Star. On the way back we saw Orion's belt and I told her how some people think the mammoth star Betelgeuse is dying and could die as early as next year (or thousands of years from now). This led to a talk about people's Myan calendar predictions the world is ending, then about U.F.O.s and different theories, and finally an awesome display of "fireworks" as, before putting water on the fire, I smacked the coals and logs with a stick sending up beautiful, wild explosions of tiny, dancing sparks.

It was a wonderful evening, filled with love, closeness, and fun. It is a joy to be in conversations with our girls where even the silly stuff seems to find its way to incorporating God in it somehow—not forced, but just because He is so present in our hearts and lives. I thank Him for His love for us, for the love of others for us, for love itself, and for the majesty of His Creation. I am including some photos for you to share the evening with us, may we do so in person soon one day!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Kingdom Foundation

Yesterday I finished teaching through Part 1 of my series on the Kingdom of God/Heaven. Part 1 has been focused on laying a foundation for understanding how much the Kingdom dominated Jesus' teaching and is associated with the word "gospel" in the Bible.

It is fascinating, once you put on "Kingdom glasses," how "Kingdom" words explode out of the New Testament . . . words like kingdom, king, throne, scepter, crown, rule, authority, dominion, etc. Even in letters like 1 Corinthians where Paul says, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,"  he goes on shortly thereafter to say he will see what the arrogant ones in Corinth are made of when he shows up because the Kingdom is not in word, but in power!

The Kingdom was the thing Jesus taught on during His forty days after the resurrection and before His ascension, and it was the last thing we have recorded in Acts that Paul taught on. In the middle of Acts Paul even told the elders in Ephesus that he was innocent of their blood because he had shared with them the Kingdom, the "whole counsel of God."

If you have never undertaken a study of this, I would really encourage you to listen to at least yesterday's teaching (you can get to the church's download page by clicking here, then you can select the 1/23/11 teaching from that page). I couldn't begin, in yesterday's teaching, to review all that I covered in the first two, but if you at all doubt that the Kingdom was a dominate—maybe even the dominate—part of Jesus' and the early church's teaching, then yesterday's teaching will give you a lot of food for thought.

Next week I hope to begin to peel apart just what this Kingdom is, and what the teaching was, and how that affects us in our day to day Christian living. The Kingdom has been seen in so many different ways—and that makes some sense considering some references to it by Jesus are a "now" and "present" reference, some are "near" reference, and some are a "later" reference. Some have said, incorrectly (I believe), that the Kingdom is all about Heaven and not about here and now. Others have said, also incorrectly, that we are supposed to turn this earth into the perfect Kingdom by social justice, etc. Some would seem to demean or water down the cross as not as important because the Kingdom was the true subject . . . but I believe that the cross is the crown of the Kingdom, and that the cross is what allows us to victoriously represent the Kingdom and walk in its authority. I will go in to detail on all of this in coming weeks and teachings, but for now I wanted to invite you to share yesterday's with me. May God bless you through it as He is blessing me.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Kingdom Views . . .

I will not be able to share on the Kingdom of Heaven/God in my blog in any way close to the depth I will be on Sundays, but I will endeavor to capture some of what God is showing me in posts over the coming weeks. It has been an eye-opening journey as I study and I hope it blesses you as much as it has me. Bear with me through these initial posts as, short of becoming book length, they will inevitably raise more questions than I can address or answer here.

It strikes me that the Kingdom message was one that we have lost in our sharing of the Gospel—and yet it was dominate in their sharing of it. John the Baptist declared it. Jesus declared it. The first verses of Acts tell us it is what Jesus taught on between His resurrection and ascension. The chapters of Acts tell us that it was dominate in what the Apostles taught. The last verses of Acts tell us that it is what Paul was teaching from his confinement in the last records of his life. Jesus even said that it was the gospel of the Kingdom that would be preached throughout the whole world, and then the end would come.

What is the Kingdom message or gospel? I'll address that in later posts, but it is, in a very short summary, the place where God reigns. A kingdom is a king's domain—where he has authority. Paul tells us, in Colossians 1:13, that God, ". . . has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son." Jesus made no bones about declaring Satan the ruler of this world, but He announced a ruler, or King, greater had come—a new and greater Kingdom was "invading" the world that was, and is, under the sway and authority (or domain) of darkness.

In some verses the Kingdom is declared to be here. In others it is still coming. And both are true. The invasion began with Jesus. Then, by His death, burial, and resurrection He "bound" the strongman—He removed Satan's basis of authority and power. What awaits is the plundering of the strongman's goods. (I am referencing His parable of the strongman which He told in multiple of the Gospels when accused of casting out demons by Satan's power.) We are in, as Peter declared in his first sermon when quoting Joel, the "last days"—plural. We are waiting for the last day—singular. It would seem that we are in that inbetween time when the Kingdom of God has broken in, where Jesus has bound the strongman, and when the strongman's goods are being plundered by those in God's Kingdom—where we are called to go out, in His name and authority, and share and demonstrate this Kingdom to a world in darkness.

Some have believed that we are to usher in the final Kingdom by social justice and working to make the world perfect. That won't happen. The Bible makes it clear the world is going to be in chaos and pain until Jesus comes back. The Kingdom is not a world Kingdom, it is God's rule in and over a person. We absolutely care for the downtrodden, and love the lost, and rebuke the demonic realm, and "plunder" that which Satan owns . . . but we do it person by person, one by one, loving them and sharing with them the good news of Jesus' death that bound Satan's hold and gave us a way to freedom and being brought back together again with God, who loves us so much.

The thing that a "Kingdom" understanding does for us is help us understand our full calling in Christ. So often we present the cross as the end or the gospel—"get saved" so you can go to heaven. We then "get saved" and then wait, or "hold on," until heaven. The "Kingdom" understanding awakens us to our tremendous calling to go, in Jesus' authority and name, letting Him live and rule in us, as our King, plundering that which He died to buy back, that which He dearly loves. Jesus has gone ahead of us to prepare a place—and the day will be here in a twinkle of the eye when He ushers us in to it!—but until then we are called to kneel before our King, to serve our King, to allow Him to be King in us, and to be His hands and feet in winning back that which He paid the dearest price for. I believe that it would be impossible for a Christian to ever truly understand this calling and Kingdom gospel and to ever be bored. I am convinced that word "bored" and the word "Christian" should never exist in the same sentence (yes, I know I just used them both in one).

The great news is that while we are warned through the New Testament to be aware of the devil as we live and serve, nowhere does it say we are to be afraid of the devil. To the contrary—to understand the Kingdom gospel is to understand that Jesus defeated him with the cross and that we are to go in Jesus' name and authority and be His Kingdom "knights"—plundering that which was the devil's, but which Jesus bought back. In fact, the New Testament encourages us and reminds us that when we resist the devil he will flee, and that greater is the One in us than the one who is in and of the world! Thanks be to God for His gift, His love, and the calling we have to be a part of His "invasion" from Heaven to earth! May His Kingdom come, and His will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven, in each area and place He has called me and you to live and walk in His name and authority, as His ambassador and soldier and bride!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hello All, I've Missed You!

Carmel Christmas 12/2010
Carmel Christmas 12/2009
 Happy new year to all of you! I hope that it has been a wonderful start to the year for you so far. It seems like things are "settling in" a bit—for awhile starting in late November until recently I started joking that I wasn't going to plan more than an hour ahead because things were happening and changing so fast!

For those of you who have "followed" our family traditions, I post for your enjoyment the third year of our traditional Carmel Christmas picture with my folks. Of course, the only ones looking any older from year to year are the girls. The prior two years pictures are included. Won't Heaven be wonderful where all who have made Jesus the Lord of their life will be able to fellowship and share together, and we won't have to be bound by distance! (And, I'll bet the coffee in Heaven is going to be amazing!)

Carmel Christmas 12/2008
Speaking of coffee, I have begun brewing some "Cowboy Coffee." I read about it in a novel I was reading and it intrigued me, so I let it be know I wanted to try it and my folks got me an enamel coffee pot that can go right on a fire. It has been fun boiling water and just putting the grounds in it, but Mary Ann is still pulling towards the more traditional approaches. Any tips or suggestions out there on making the best cup of cowboy coffee?

The first Sunday in January marked my 11th year of pastoring, and I am beginning a couple of new things this year in my study. Last Sunday I started teaching on the Kingdom of God/Heaven—a topic that I am more and  more convinced was the framework and core of the message shared by Jesus and the disciples. I have been studying on this for 6-9 months and I am very excited to share about it. We have such an amazing calling as God's children, and I believe that the enemy has eroded that calling and good news so down that we just "get saved" and then try and hold on until Heaven. To the contrary, I believe that we are part of an "invasion" from Heaven to earth, part of God's work restoring a people to Him, of plundering that which the enemy has stolen. If anyone wants to follow the series I will be trying to put the mp3 files of each Sunday up on our church's web page by the Wednesday after each teaching (hopefully the first teaching in the series, which I gave yesterday, will be up by tomorrow night). You can get to our church's audio download page by clicking here, or by going to the "About Me" page of this blog and clicking on the link near the bottom of it.

Also new, our family has begun going through the book of Acts in our morning Family Worship time. I am enjoying the discussion back and forth and hearing the girls' thoughts. It is amazing to me how the Apostles were with Jesus three years, they had the most chance of anyone to understand the Father's heart as revealed in Jesus, they had the Holy Spirit from when He breathed on them, and they still needed to wait for the Holy Spirit to come over them at Pentecost before they could have power for ministry. Wow! If that doesn't remind us how important the Holy Spirit is to our work then nothing probably will. I wonder how much we do on our own strength that God is just waiting to help us with if we would simply ask and wait, and make sure our lives are fully surrendered and that we aren't grieving or quenching the Spirit by what we do/think (or fail to do/think).

God bless you all. I look forward to sharing so much more with you in the coming weeks. Until then, stay in touch!


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