Saturday, March 28, 2015

Maggie's Turn: Man's Best Friend Speaks Out

My birthday is on Monday, and I will be four years old. Well, I might be five years old. I don't know, but that's ok. Wonder Dogs don't care about those silly age numbers anyway. Since I know so many tricks and some people think I am very smart, Dr. Walter Downs suggested my name as a guest blogger. I'm not saying how smart I am, but I CAN dance like a ballerina AND sneak like a spy. Thank you, Mr. Walter!!

Of course, I've never written a blog before, my time being occupied with Wonder Dog business, but I don't mind sharing some of my little wisdom that makes my life so wonderful. Well, I'm only going to give you two little pieces of my wisdom. I have a lot, but if I give it all out now, you know what would happen. That's right. No more guest blogger. I'm holding something back.

First of all, you need to know WHO YOU ARE and why you were created. I'm Maggie the Wonder Dog, and my job is, of course, to be a wonder, doing many things that no one would expect me to do. Like herding cows. Shih-Tzu's like me don't usually herd cows. 

This "what I was created-to-be" business works like this. Since my "breed" is Shih Tzu, there are some characteristics of Shih Tzu's that you should expect to see in me. Dogs like me are loyal, friendly, loving, and alert. We make good watch dogs because we are so alert, even though we are little. That is why I bark so much. I'm on the alertness job ALL the time. I never, ever take a day off. If I don't watch out, who will?  There is no sense in fussing about me barking. I'm born to sound the alarm. 

I'm sounding the alarm because I have to take care of my humans. That's part of being loyal. Now, if I am going to be loyal, I need to be loyal to the right person, so it's important to know WHOSE I am, too. I belong to my mama, and she is a wonder like me. She has so many animals for me to watch, it's like being a guard at a zoo!! 

Sometimes...  Oh I don't know if she wants me to tell this. Well, I'm going to anyway. Sometimes, my mama lets the cows out and they get busy eating grass and won't do what she says. She can get pretty frazzled about that, and one time she cried! I did not like that! Those cows were not nice to my mama. From then on, it's been my job to be sure those cows are sweet to her. When she says round up, they better do it or they will be dealing with me! That's part of being loyal, and I'm good at it. Are you good at being loyal?

I know a lot about being a Wonder Dog, but I don't know that much about being a human, so I asked my mama about her breed. She says her breed is Christian, and she tries to act the way she's supposed to, being a Christian and all. She says Christians are supposed to be loving, gentle, peaceful, patient, kind, good, loyal, and self-controlled. 

Hey, that seems like a bunch to remember, but those Christians sound a lot like Shih Tzu's!  It looks to me, though, like Shih Tzu's might be better at being Shih Tzu's than Christians are at being Christians! (Except my mama! She's terrific!) 

When I asked mama who she belongs to, she said, "Jesus, of course." She says she is loyal to Jesus because He's been so sweet to her. "Does He fill your treat puzzle every morning?" I asked. That's what mama does for me. She laughed. "No, silly. I don't have a treat puzzle! He just fills my day with joy and peace!"  She really likes joy and peace. Me... I like treat puzzles. But I like it when my mama has joy and peace, too. 

I know many other things I can tell you about later, but that's about enough for today. I've noticed it takes humans longer to learn their tricks and their obedience than it does Wonder Dogs. I better sum it all up. You need to figure out what your breed is and what you are meant to be like, and then you need to be that way! You need to decide who you belong to and then you need to be loyal to them.

Wonder Dogs like short commands. Maybe humans do too. Here's the one for today:


The end. From Maggie the Wonder Dog. 

Teach us to pray, part 4: Our Father, Aba-na

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: ' Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

In Matthew's record of the Model Prayer, Jesus begins with the words "Our Father". He is not just my personal Father, nor simply the Father of the people who attend the same local church I attend or even the same denomination. "Our Father" indicates that He is the Father of all those who put their trust in Him, and we are all His children, brothers and sisters together as children of God. 

The rampages of hate conducted by ISIS toward believers in recent months have made me even more aware of the brotherhood of believers. When I saw that ISIS had kidnapped 90 Christians in Syria, I wept. They are my family. They are your family, and they are suffering unspeakable torment and pain because of their faith in Our Father. 

As I considered their kidnapping, I wondered about what language they speak in Syria (Arabic), how "Our Father" translates in Arabic, and how Syrian Christians refer to Our Father, the One who is Father of us all. The transliteration to English is aba-na. Isn't that a beautiful name? Since that time, I've used the Arabic name for God when I pray as a reminder that I share the same Father as my brothers and sisters from Syria who have been kidnapped by ISIS.  


Praying with their language, even if only in this one word, has made me much more cognizant of my relationship with my family in chains, much more concerned, more brokenhearted. When I read of the travesty of Boko Haram in Nigeria, it breaks my heart because they are my people. They are family, and much loved. These Syrian Christians are my people, my family, and I long to do something. 

Sometimes I forget that I can do something. In fact, you and I can do something that just might rock the world of those vicious ISIS soldiers. We can pray, and a perfect place to begin is with Aba-na. Our Father. Use the words our Syrian family uses as a reminder of our connection to them.

As we pray today, let's spend more time praying for our family in chains around the world than we do for ourselves. Pray for those being tortured by ISIS, those being brutalized by Boko Haram, and by all the other persecutors of the world. Pray for protection from their persecutors, quick deliverance, and that their faith would stay strong. Pray that their suffering would be limited and that their example of faithfulness would bring conviction and salvation to their captors. Pray for those who persecute as well as those who are persecuted. 

Those Syrian Christians are our family, and Aba-na is the Father of us all, so let's be faithful  to do the one thing that is likely to make the most difference, and pray without ceasing. 

... The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. James 5:16 NASB

ps - That's a picture of my human daddy. As much as my earthly father loved me, Our Heavenly Father loves us even more. He listens we pray, so be sure to take our concerns our family in chains to Him.

Teach us to pray, part 34: Born into the Kingdom of God

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" 
                                                                                                                                  (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God... Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:3,5 NASB)

"For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin. 
                                                                                                                     (Colossians 1:13,14 NASB) 

I hope you're not weary with all these posts about the kingdom of God, but these teachings are such fundamental parts of our faith (and we have such a tendency to drift over time) that it is worth a review. Today, we look at a topic that should properly have been at the very start of our study of the kingdom of God.

John relates the account of Nicodemus and his visit to Jesus in John 3. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. He had both position and authority. He had heard of Jesus, recognized the truth of God in His words, and understood that the power in His miracles (or signs) was from God alone. Nicodemus had likely listened to Jesus in person, but he wanted to know more, so he "came to Him by night" to ask his questions. (It is not clear whether Nicodemus was trying to  avoid being seen by his fellow Pharisees by coming to Jesus at night or whether it was simply easier to gain access to Jesus at night. The important point is that he came.

Nicodemus began his interaction with Jesus by clearly stating that he understood Jesus was sent by God and that God was with Him in his work. Jesus answered, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God." Jesus knew that was the very thing Nicodemus most wanted to know more about. "How is this possible? Once you are old, you can't go back and be born from your mother all over again, so what are you talking about?" Nicodemus had understood that there was something more to knowing God than just being born Jewish. Jesus explained that there were two kinds of births. The "birth of water" is that physical birth that is accompanied by amniotic fluid (commonly referred to as "water"). Every person has that kind of birth.

There is a second birth, however, that is a spiritual birth. This is the "birth of the Spirit". Jesus went on to explain that we are all sinners and there is a price that must be paid for sin. We could never offer enough animal sacrifices to save ourselves. We could never bring ourselves out of the darkness of sin and into the light of redemption. God looked at our sinful state and made a judgment. "Light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil." What a heart-breaking truth! That sad reality is something we, too, must understand. I must look at the light of God and realize that I love the darkness more than His light. It is a moment of recognition that is essential for faith to come.

The amazing grace of God begins at that point. When  recognize that I love darkness more than light, sin more than holiness, I have a choice. I can stay in the darkness or I can embrace truth and come to the light of God found in Jesus. On my own, I could never make that step out of darkness into light. It is only by believing in Jesus that it is accomplished. 

The fundamental tenet of our faith is that "whoever believes may in Him have eternal life." (John 3:15 NASB) Eternal life doesn't comes from doing good deeds, making large donations, or spending inordinate amounts of time in church services. Eternal life comes from faith in the Son of God, and that only comes by the Spirit of God. It is only possible because of the love of God. That decision to stake my eternal destiny on faith in Christ is the "birth of the Spirit" and begins my new life with Jesus. It is the beginning of an amazing journey of faith, just as the birth of a baby is the beginning of our earthly journey.

Paul explains this a little further in Colossians. The problem is sin. The solution is forgiveness. That forgiveness can only be obtained by faith in Jesus, who paid the penalty for our sin with His death on the cross. My faith in Him is not just believing that He was a great man, nor that He was a great teacher. It is not just faith that He was the Son of God. My faith in Him is that He paid the penalty for my sin. I trade my sin for His righteousness. It seems like a terrible deal for Jesus, but it is the greatest deal possible for me because Jesus, and Jesus alone, delivers me from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. He gives me eternal life in Him. 

There is one more point for today. If I am delivered from the domain of darkness, I no longer dwell there. I no longer do the things I did in that domain. Certainly I will not be perfect and sin-free after I believe in Jesus, but I cannot remain unchanged and move from darkness into light. 

Paul described it as a transfer. When I accept Christ, I am transferred out of the kingdom of darkness. I cannot continue living in the kingdom of darkness if I have been transferred out of it. It's a simple as that. I cannot have it both ways. Accepting Christ means I begin to live like Him. I begin on the path of holiness. Just as a baby learning to walk will stumble and fall, so, too, I will have setbacks and failures. A failure, however, is not the same as never making a change at all. 

The beginning of the entire journey of faith comes at the point that we see ourselves as we are, sinners in need of a Savior. Until that recognition is accomplished, nothing else is possible. Remembering that sorry state in which we found ourselves is the very thing that confirms the amazing grace of God in us, and that which should fill every day with an overwhelming gratitude for the One who redeemed us when we could not save ourselves.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see. 

Teach us to pray, part 33, Thy Kingdom Come - Entering the kingdom

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! (Mark 10:23-24 NASB)

We are currently studying the model prayer and are looking at the kingdom of God in us. In this post, we look at the issue of entering the kingdom of God.

As Jesus was heading out on a preaching journey, a man ran up to him and asked what he should do to inherit eternal life. This man had kept the law, but knew there must be more. Jesus loved the man and told him what he didn't really want to hear. "There's one thing you're missing. Sell everything you own and give it to the poor, then come follow me." Jesus knew the man was rich and that his hold on his possessions was preventing him from embracing the things of God. 

Hold here just a minute and let's consider the story further. This rich man encounters God, wrapped in flesh. He speaks with God (Jesus) and tells Him he wants eternal life. The man's accustomed to buying and selling, and he knows how to make a great deal. He doesn't call it this, but he is actually considering a transaction with God (Jesus). He wants eternal life and is asking what it will cost him. Jesus tells the rich man it will cost him everything he has. That's a hard blow for the man, but Jesus makes it harder. Give it all away, then come with me. This is a man who has spent his adult life buying and selling, making deals. He has property. If Jesus would allow it, he could make a great deal with the property, netting a terrific profit. He might be willing to sell his property and put the money in the bank, but just give it all away? Without even trying to make a good deal?

The rich man listened carefully to Jesus. He wanted eternal life, and he wanted it a lot, but he loved his stuff and wanted the things of this world more. In fact, he counted the cost and chose to keep his stuff, his wealth. He knew there was more to life, but decided he didn't want it bad enough to do what it would take to have it. He walked away from Jesus. When the man was gone, our Lord looked at His disciples and told them, "How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!" The disciples were surprised, but Jesus repeated His words. 

Jesus didn't mean there was anything inherently wrong with wealth. The problem is not with having wealth. The problem is in placing our trust in that wealth. The rich man could not imagine life without the "cushion" that wealth provides. He could not imagine joining his life with Jesus and giving up the assurance of money for his next meal or a comfortable place to sleep at night. He not only couldn't envision life without money, he was not willing to take the risk.

I really prefer having a bank account sufficient to meet my needs. I prefer having a full storehouse. There is something really exciting, however, about trusting my Lord enough to allow Him to meet my need on a daily basis, rather than months in advance, that is truly wonderful. He is faithful. 

There is a difficulty in this walk of faith, however. Trusting Him to meet my daily needs requires that I make a serious effort to be consistently, constantly faithful. It requires that I allow Him to sort out which of my perceived needs is a true need and which is a want. It requires that I abandon my wants to Him and allow Him to give me "the desires of my heart". As a society, we tend to think that God will give us whatever we want. Instead, what He gives us is a change in desire. His desire becomes my desire. His desire, however, is not likely to be for material things. Instead, what He desires for me is righteousness, holiness, the fruits of the Spirit. When He gives me the desires of my heart, righteousness, holiness, and the fruits of the Spirit become the things I desire, as well. 

Righteousness, holiness, and the fruits of the Spirit are not incompatible with material wealth, but they don't guarantee it, either.

In a way, the walk of faith is a kind of transaction. I "purchase" eternal life by giving Christ my life here on earth. The problem is that my earthly life will never be enough to repay the gift of sacrifice Christ has already given. That's where mercy and grace come into the equation. Our Lord offers His life for mine. Give Me what you have, He tells me, and I will pay the rest. It is the most unbelievable giving possible, and I cannot fully comprehend it, but I trust it. 

The rich man's problem was not his wealth. His problem was that he held so tight to his wealth that he couldn't embrace the cross, and it cost him a relationship with Jesus. It's easy for his problem to be mine, as well. I prefer comfort. I prefer a healthy bank account. When my trust is in my own ability to provide for myself, there is no way I am willing to take a step of faith, following Christ in unexpected ways or unplanned opportunities. 

It is only when I give my expectations, my abilities, my desires to Christ, without reservation, that the real fun begins. It is then that He begins to unfold His desire for me and reveal His plan for me in a richer way than I could have ever imagined. It is not necessarily easier, but it is a path that is sweeter than expected and filled with incredible peace. 

The way to enter the Kingdom of God is to follow Christ where He leads. To follow, I must first make a choice. Will I trust Christ with everything or not? Will I stop clinging to this world and it's comfort and grasp my Savior with all that I have, putting my trust completely in Him? Will I follow when the path looks unexpected to all those around me? Will I follow when it requires all that I have accumulated? Will I follow or not? That's the question we all must answer and on which our eternal destiny hangs. 

We have a choice to make. Will we choose the way of the world or the Journey of Joy and the Path of Faith? There is only one way that leads to eternal life. Let's choose well.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Teach Us to Pray, part 32: The Keys to the Kingdom of God

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

We are currently studying the Model Prayer of Jesus and parsing the phrase "Your Kingdom come". Yesterday, we looked at how we receive the Kingdom of God in the form of His word and the effect it has on our lives. Today, we are exploring the "keys of the Kingdom". There are two passages of particular note and I have included them here.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19 NASB)

And He said to them, "Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. [ But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting." ] (Matthew 17:20-21 NASB)

In the passage in Matthew 16, Jesus had just asked the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" and Peter had responded with that declaration of faith and truth, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus commended his faith and promised Peter the "keys of the kingdom". That promise has made its way into the vernacular with the image of the apostle Peter standing at the pearly gates with a huge set of keys, deciding who can enter and who cannot, but that was not what Jesus intended at all. 

Instead, the word used here is kleis and is used metaphorically to indicate power and authority, specifically the power and authority to help people gain knowledge. On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood and spoke in such a way that thousands came to faith in Christ. He metaphorically opened the door to faith for them. What we forget about that day is that, after the ascension of Christ, Peter and the other disciples, along with quite a few believers, had spent weeks together in continuous prayer and worship. His power and authority flowed out of the time he had spent in prayer and fasting. His spiritual knowledge was the expected outcome of his discipline.

The passage in Matthew 17 followed the transfiguration. Jesus and the disciples who had accompanied Him to the mount of transfiguration returned to find the other disciples unsuccessfully trying to heal/cast out a demon from a boy. After Jesus healed the child, He told them that they could not heal him because of the "littleness of your faith" and also said that some things could only come out by prayer and fasting. 

How does all this relate to the keys of heaven? Matthew Henry says that the keys of the kingdom of heaven are knowledge and discipline. He related this discipline to the admitting of people into the church and disciplining sinners, and he may be absolutely correct, but I am inclined to believe that, because of his faith, Peter received the keys of knowledge and discipline so that he was able to share the gospel in a clear and concise way (knowledge), with the result that many people came to Christ through his preaching. 

Peter also had knowledge from the Holy Spirit that allowed him to know what God would have him do in healing those who were sick and performing miracles. That knowledge came from the discipline of time spent in prayer and fasting. He "loosed" people from disease and the bondage of sin and did incredible miracles in the name of Christ. His preaching and teaching "bound" them to Christ. (Of course it was the Holy Spirit working through Peter and not Peter himself doing the loosing and binding.)

The amazing thing is that you and I have been granted this same Holy Spirit that Christ gave to Peter and the other disciples. We, too, can have the faith of a mustard seed. We, too, can have the keys of knowledge and discipline, if we will. 

This binding and loosing, then, comes about only because of the permission of Jesus and the knowledge that His Spirit gives. When we spend time in prayer and when we fast, we gain insight and power. We gain important keys that help us to "lock and unlock", to "loose and bind". What does that mean to the way that we pray? I generally think that those for whom I pray (and I myself) need to be loosed from the power of Satan and that they (and I) need to be bound to the mind, heart, and will of Christ. Jesus told Peter that he would give him that authority and implied that the church would be built on the same faith that Peter had. We, too, can have power and authority, if we will. 

I don't have the power and authority of Peter, though, and you probably don't either. It grieves me to say that, but grieves me even more to realize that the reason I don't have it is not that Christ is not willing to grant me power and authority, but that I am not willing to sacrifice as Peter sacrificed to have it. Peter walked away from his business and spent his life preaching and teaching for Christ. He endured physical hardship, beatings, imprisonment, the scorn of his fellow man, and persecution that ended in a martyr's death. He did it all willingly and counted it as joy to suffer for his Lord. Peter held tight to Jesus and kept a very light hold on the things of this world.

If I lack the power of Peter, it is because I want the things of this world more than the power and authority, the knowledge and discipline that Jesus promised. I read those words, shudder at the truth of them, and recognize that it is truly pathetic. Why would I prefer comfort over the incredible delight of following Christ, even when it is hard, knowing that my eternal reward in heaven will be more than adequate recompense? This should not be.

I know that my Redeemer lives and reigns and is returning. I know that there will be a day of accountability for all the choices I have made, including my choices for or against faithfulness, boldness, and obedience. I know, yet my life often says different. My choices suggest that I doubt that I will answer for doing nothing while my brothers and sisters in Christ suffer severe persecution and death. My life implies that I do not expect to answer for doing nothing when the people Christ loves are hungry, cold, and losing their homes, their children, their way of life, all because of their faith. 

While I sit idly by and do so little, people suffer, die, enter eternity without Christ. One day, I will answer for it. One day, we will all answer for it. Time is short, and we must decide. Will we live for Christ or not? If, then, we choose to live for Christ, let us really do it. Let us embrace the Cross, embrace the discipline so that we might receive the power, the authority, the knowledge that brings transformation - first to us, and then to those whom Christ would call to Himself. 

We have a choice to make, so let's make it. Let us live like we believe. 

Start now, and keep on until Jesus calls us home. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 31: The Kingdom of God in us

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

We have been studying the model prayer of Jesus and are dissecting the phrase "Your kingdom come." Today, we begin to examine the Kingdom of God in us. (Jesus spoke so much about this that it may take a few days.)

John the Baptizer proclaimed, "The Kingdom of God is at hand." When Jesus arrived, He brought the Kingdom of God to earth. In Matthew 13, Jesus taught a series of parables to explain the Kingdom of heaven (or Kingdom of God) in us. In the parable of the sower, He described the way the Kingdom of God comes to us. The gospel of Jesus is the "word of the Kingdom". When the sower (those who share the good news of Christ) distributes the Word, it is much like a sower distributing seeds. Some of the seed falls beside the road and is eaten by birds, some falls on rocky soil or in the thorns. Some of the seed, however, falls on good soil and yields a great crop. The Word of the Kingdom comes to us in this same way. Not everyone receives the Word, but, for those who do, it yields an extravagant crop in our lives. 

Every time the seed falls on good soil, Jesus told the disciples, it yields a crop. In those instances in which the seed did not yield a crop, it was because the seed had fallen on inadequate soil. When the Word of the Kingdom enters my life, it will bear a crop. If I am sitting in a church pew every Sunday but am not being changed by the Word every day of the week, I am not bearing the crop for which Jesus was looking. If my life is not bearing "a crop", is not changed by the Word, I should be very concerned. 

If I am to be bearing a crop, I need to be able to recognize it. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, described the fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The deeds of the flesh, obviously, do not come from God and are not part of the crop resulting from the Word in our lives. These fleshly fruits include immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and similar behavior.(Gal. 5:19-21) If I have these things in my life, they are not pleasing to God, are not evidence of God's work in my life, and they need to go. It's as simple as that. 

When I allow the Word of God to take root in my life, it will begin to blossom into a crop of fruit that is recognizable to those around me. People who knew me before Christ will see a recognizable change in my behavior and in my demeanor. The fruit of the Spirit is the crop for which Christ longs, and includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. This is the fruit for which I should aim. 

My life will always demonstrate that which takes greatest precedence. Either the ways of the flesh will predominate, resulting in the fruit of the flesh, or the ways of God, resulting in fruit of the Spirit. Paul's words are so clear that they bear repeating. 

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh 
with its passions and its desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 
Galatians 5:24-25 NASB

If I belong to Christ, then I will crucify my flesh and its passions and desires. I will not snuggle up to the passion of this world. Instead, if I belong to Christ, I will embrace the ways of Christ. If I embrace the ways of Christ, I will live by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit. I will live my life His way. 

This is so simple that I sometimes wonder why I have so much trouble with it. I belong to Christ, so I do things His way, and not my own. (Or that's what I should do!) The Kingdom of God has come to earth (in Christ) and it now dwells in me (by His Spirit). It is my responsibility to demonstrate the Kingdom of God to the world by the life I live. 

What a difference I could make if I actually lived the way I say I believe! What a difference we all could make if we lived the way we say we believe! 

As we approach Holy Week, let us examine our hearts and lives for the fruit we bear. Let's make sure we are sharing the Kingdom of God with our words and our deeds. Let's be sure the world sees the fruit of the Spirit in us.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 29: The Kingdom of God in us

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

Scripture refers to the Kingdom of God in three ways. First, there is the Kingdom of God in heaven, where Almighty God lives and reigns. This is the eternal kingdom in which we will live forever after our death. Second, there is the Kingdom of God on earth, in us, begun by Christ and coming to completion when He returns. This is the Kingdom in our hearts and lives. Finally, there is the Messianic Kingdom of God that will be established on earth when Christ returns.  

To begin the discussion of the Kingdom of God, let's refresh our understanding of kingdoms. The word translated as "kingdom" is basileia and it comes from a root word meaning commander or king. Basileia, then, is the territory over which a commander or king rules and has complete authority. In a kingdom, only the king is in charge. In fact, in all the kingdoms of God, only He is in charge. 

I have to remind myself of this fairly often. There is a God, and I am not it. He is in charge, and I am not. It's not that I want to rule the entire world, but sometimes I would like to decide what happens in my little part of it. In fact, it is entirely too easy for me to think, "I want what I want, and I should have it." I shudder to think of how often I have entertained that idea, for it is blasphemy. 

Blasphemy! Shocking idea, isn't it? When I believe something that directly contradicts scripture, it is blasphemy. (by definition) Even if I only think it, but would never dare to voice it, those false beliefs are blasphemy, and they are extremely dangerous if I want to please God. Our Lord said that He is the way, the truth, and the life. He will never embrace falsehoods, nor should I. Blasphemy will never please Him.

We live in a society of entitlement, where we think we "deserve" better than we have, that we are "entitled" to more than we have obtained. If I am to serve the King of Kings, to dwell in His Kingdom, I must relinquish this nonsense of entitlement. If the Son of God had nowhere to rest His head, I should not consider myself entitled to a bigger house, a more stylish interior, gourmet food, or extravagant travel. 

This is terrible, but I'm going to say it anyway. My next book is set in the Bahamas. I'd really like to return to the Bahamas to do a little research. I would also like to spend a nice stretch of time on the beach, in the sand, walking in the surf. It's a want. It's not a need. It's not something I deserve for working so hard. It is not something to which I am entitled. Certainly, God may provide for me to travel to the beach in the Bahamas, and I may have a wonderful time there, but it will be a gift of God, not something I deserve. 

In a Kingdom, then, there is a King and He is completely in charge over all His subjects. I have a choice. Will I be one of His subjects or not? If I am one of God's subjects, and I want to dwell in God's Kingdom, I must go by His rules. The wonderful truth is that, because of Jesus, God has adopted me as His child. I are more than a "subject". The example of Christ, who obeyed even to the cross, however, shows me that, regardless of my adoption, I still have to obey. 

When I pray "thy Kingdom come", I am praying that God's rule will be evident in my life. What makes that evident? My obedience. My humility. My servant heart. As we approach Holy Week, let's join together to invite the Kingdom of God into our own hearts, our own lives and demonstrate it to the world by our obedience. 

Come Lord Jesus, and reign in us. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Teach us to Pray, part 28: Your Kingdom Come

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

We turn now to the phrase "Thy Kingdom come". There are so many aspects to this phrase that it will take a few days to get through them all, but, for today, we are looking at the longing we should have for the kingdom of God to come. This was not the first, nor the only, time that that Jesus mentioned God's Kingdom coming. In Matthew (Sermon on the Mount), Jesus taught that our top priority should be seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. 

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33 NASB)

"Seek first" indicates top priority to my seeking. This seeking is not only to be for His kingdom but also for His righteousness. I should not be looking simply for my idea of heaven on earth. I should be actively, and eagerly, with first priority, seeking righteousness. 

The word translated as "righteousness" is dikaiosynÄ“ and is one of the attributes of God, indicating His faithfulness and truthfulness. It speaks of God's absolute abhorrence of sin and the commitment to dealing with sin that lead Him to sacrifice Himself on the cross for us. 

For me to seek righteousness, then, requires that I see Sin in the same way God does. It requires that I acknowledge the price of my Sin and the death that it required. If I am seeking righteousness, I will be moving toward the point of abhorring my own sin and desiring to be done with it. 

Seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness is not compatible with the casual attitude toward Sin that is so prevalent today. I cannot claim Grace as an excuse for my sin. Yes, there is Grace to cover our failures, but I must not be needlessly extravagant with that which was bought at such a horrific price. The Grace that God so generously supplies (giving me what I do not deserve) is to be treasured and handled with the care it deserves. 

Seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness requires that I seek the integrity, purity, and virtue of God and allow that integrity to direct both my actions and my thoughts. In asking God that His Kingdom come, I am asking that it come first in me. 

For today, join me in seeking His Kingdom, asking God that His Kingdom, His righteousness, His integrity comes first in us, cleansing us from all our unrighteousness and fitting us for His Kingdom.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus, but cleanse us, Your people, before You do.