The Keys to the Kingdom

Perhaps you have asked yourself questions like these: What does God want from me? How does he want me to live? I remember my early days as a believer, and I would often ask God to show me his will, reveal what he wanted from me. I remember finding verses like Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” or 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification;” or Romans 8:29, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” The goal back then was to be the best Christian I could be, walking in faith, walking in the light, walking in purity, but notice that the emphasis was always on ME.

But there are much bigger questions that believers must wrestle with. What is God’s global purpose and how do I fit into that? How does God expect me to do the work of evangelism? How am I making disciples? The preacher is always talking about the Great Commission and the need and responsibility that we believers have to be an intentional witness for the risen Savior Jesus Christ. I’m no Peter or Paul or Timothy; I’m just an average Joe who believes the story of Jesus, his work on the cross, and have put my trust in him alone for my salvation. I’m not ambitious enough to think that I can change the world, nor clever enough that God would use a person like me to make a difference. So, where do I fit in the Kingdom of God? How will I find my place in the Kingdom, which is our theme for 2015?

Perhaps you have been watching the NBC series on Sunday night called AD, the Bible Continues. While there are some portions embellished for story sake, the main story of the early days of the Christian church is great to watch. Those people had to stand up for what they believed in while the threats of imprisonment and death were constantly on their minds. God can’t expect us to live that way in this modern society.

Today, we seek out every possible way to be free from discomfort, and when we sense the need to go deeper with God, we use phrases like, “getting out of our comfort zone” or “if you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat” or we read books like “radical.” In actuality, we are NOT called to be RADICAL, but rather “radical” is a term that should describe the NORMAL Christian life. When we are not radically sold out to Jesus, we are living out some other gospel, not one that we read about in the New Testament.

Let’s get into First Thessalonians:

The first thing I want you to see in this passage is that Paul brought to the church a message with kingdom authority.

  1. Kingdom Authority:

For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. 3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.

The first thing I want you to see in these verses is…

The Manner of Paul’s Ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2, 4)

  1. Paul was not a quitter (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2) He spoke with boldness, he suffered, he was mistreated, but he was dedicated to God, he continued to preach with a lot of opposition or contention.
  • He was jailed in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40) so he was a man with a police record, an ex-con, a jail-bird.
  • He was accused of being a man on the run from justice, and who would listen to such a man? There were people who twisted his message, his motives, and his methods.
  1. Paul was a steward (1 Thessalonians 2:4) he was entrusted with the gospel.
  • A steward owns nothing, but possesses and uses everything that belongs to his master.
  • A steward possesses faithfulness to his Master (1 Corinthians 4:1-2), we are not to aim for pleasing men, but pleasing God.

The people had no less than three charges against Paul. Let’s take a look at…

The Message of Paul’s Ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:3a). Paul’s message did not come from error; it was true and contained no deceit. This message came directly from God. People would accuse him of being mad, a crazy man, like…

  • Early in Jesus’ ministry (Mark 3:21), “When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses.
  • Later in Paul’s life when Festus thought has was insane (Acts 26:24), “While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.

We need to have the same burning passion of constantly talking about Jesus, what he has done for us, and sharing what we know and have experienced.

The Motive of Paul’s Ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:3b). Another accusation came that Paul was preaching with impure motives. It is possible to preach the right message with the wrong motives. The early church had a practice of what is called “agape meals” which had been called “love Feasts” according to Jude 1:12. You can imagine how critics could take that term and reduce it toward something immoral, but Paul’s motivation was clean; it was pure.

The Method of Paul’s Ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:3c). There was no guile or trickery to win converts to faith in Jesus. The word has an image of “baiting a hook;” yet Paul did not trap people with cleaver salesmanship. Salvation does not come at the end of some cleaver argument or subtle presentation, salvation is the result of God’s Word connecting with the power of the Holy Spirit … for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. (1 Thessalonians 1:5). In this passage, we see there was no deceit in Paul’s method.

His message of kingdom authority came out of his kingdom authenticity.

  1. Kingdom Authenticity:

5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness— 6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.

First Thessalonians tells us that Paul invested his life into this community, and made a difference. People knew the truth of his word and his words. He was not a cheap peddler of elixir, or a feel-good gospel, or a prosperity gospel. People accused him of flattery speech and being greedy, but Paul’s readers knew that he told the truth, just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you (1 Thessalonians 1:5).

Paul also appealed to the witness of God (1 Thessalonians 2:5, 10) and to their witness as well (1 Thessalonians 2:11). A person with flattery speech will manipulate rather than communicate. In America, we are getting used to being manipulated and lied to, especially during an election year. We see this regularly happening today in the mainstream media, if you repeat a lie often enough, and loudly enough, it will be accepted as the truth.

Authenticity means being who you claim to be as well as being who you ought to be. This is a challenge for all of us. There has to be authenticity in our pulpit ministry, corporate worship life, and in our individual and family lives, too.

Paul had kingdom authority and lived his life with kingdom authenticity; which could only happened while possessing a kingdom attitude.

  1. Kingdom Attitude:

7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; 11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children,

This section begins and ends with two great illustrations: he behaved as a mother with her child and a father with his children. This reveals the care and concern that parents have for their kids, and as kingdom people, we should have toward those inside and outside of the faith. A kingdom attitude understands that we do not live only for ourselves. The church does not exist for itself. The church is probably the only organization that exists solely for the benefit of those who are not members.

Think about how Jesus treated his disciples. He lived among them, coached them, taught them, challenged them, encouraged them, all these things are done in close proximity, as the body of faith. Babies are not birthed only to let them fend for themselves; neither are we to do the same with the children of God.

Believers in Jesus Christ must invest their lives into the next generation; it is imperative for human families, it is essential with our spiritual family. We must be of the same attitude, to work day and night, proclaiming the good news of Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:9). This type of investment of life and involvement in the lives of other people is different than church business as usual.

Paul had kingdom authority and lived his life with kingdom authenticity; which could only happened while possessing a kingdom attitude; so to make this happen, we need a kingdom approach.

  1. Kingdom Approach:

12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

This verse tells us that the way in which we walk (meaning, the way we live our lives) must be in a manner worthy of God. The old approach is that we simply believe in the facts about Jesus whether we end up living according to that standard or not. It was all about right belief and praying a prayer of salvation. This approach has led us to the point we find the church today.

Think about the evangelism of the past, we were taught to go to strangers, knock on doors, or go to the unchurched people you know to make sure they hear a clear presentation of the gospel. We want them saved, to believe in the resurrected Jesus, the only way to the Father (John 14:6). That may be well and good, but I question the effectiveness of this approach. A kingdom approach involves living our lives in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom.

I’m not talking about lifestyle evangelism, which is generally translated as, “I won’t speak up and say anything about Jesus, I just let my life speak for me; after all, my actions will speak louder than my words.” The problem is that no one is perfect and lost people will be disappointed in other human beings in the long run.

While it is true that Jesus said to let your light shine before me so they will glorify the Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16), Paul said in Romans 10:17, that faith comes from hearing. People need to hear you putting in a good word for Jesus. Lifestyle alone is not sufficient.

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” It sounds good on the surface but let’s think about this logically. Doing acts of kindness for others will not invite them to fall on their knees and repent, it takes our speaking up so they can HEAR the gospel and follow Jesus. As an example of the importance of action, consider this, “Feed the hungry at all times, and if necessary, use food.” Being an advocate for hunger issues is different from feeding hungry people. How will people taste of the Bread of Life if we don’t provide the necessary food?

So, this new approach is all about getting involved in our community and impacting our circles of influence, more than creating the next great event designed to attract people to our church in hopes they hear the gospel from a professional pastor. In this attractional model, evangelism has become synonymous with an invitation to church.

So finally, Paul had kingdom authority and lived his life with kingdom authenticity; which could only happened when possessing a kingdom attitude; employing a kingdom approach, and being involved in kingdom activity.

  1. Kingdom Activity:

13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. 14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews,

Paul sums up this entire section by thanking God that the Thessalonians received his message and accepted the message for what it was, the Word of God, and not the word of men. The challenge he has in this section comes right out of verse 14, that they would become imitators of the churches in Judea (1 Thessalonians 2:14). So, what is the church supposed to be doing?

One of the best places in Scripture to read about the activities of the early church is in the book of Acts 2:42-47. Back in April I was able to preach about Praying for the Church’s MVPs (the church’s Mission, Vision, and Proclamation) so I won’t revisit that today, but the point is, we are to be on mission in this life. The church must be active and on the move, we have marching orders, and HIS last command needs to be OUR first concern.

We have been entrusted with the gospel, and we must be good stewards of that which the Father has given to us. We are gifted in various areas, different people are able to serve in different capacities. It is important to find a place to give back, make a difference, and impact the kingdom of God.

We have kingdom authority and are challenged to live with kingdom authenticity; which can only happened when we have a kingdom attitude, employing a kingdom approach, and being involved in kingdom activity. This is how we make a difference in the lives of others, for the kingdom’s sake. These five things really are the keys to the kingdom.

Next Steps:

In what ways can you BLESS your neighbors and co-workers each week? Remember this means to

  1. Begin with prayer, then
  2. Listen, or
  3. Eat a meal that week with an unchurched person, or
  4. Serve someone in Jesus’ name, or
  5. Share YOUR story or HIS story.

How can you make sure that you are trying to please God rather than trying to please yourself or other people?

Into whom, and how, are you imparting the gospel of God and your own life to others (1 Thessalonians 2:8-9)?

What is the difference between accepting a message as the Word of God and responding to it? (1 Thessalonians 2:13-14)

[print_link] [email_link]

We are Called to Bear Fruit

In January 2012, our church is going to focus on a very important topic, one which is the essence of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. You might check out a men’s study we did years ago on the Secrets of the Vine.

Just as one would expect grapes from a grape vine, the most obvious fruit of a Christian is another Christian. We should tell others how Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins and arose from the dead for us to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). God wants us to “show and tell” so that others will become disciples as well. Bearing fruit is the way we prove we are his disciples (John 15:8).

Other spiritual fruit will include our personal character qualities, such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” (Galatians 5:22-23). Spiritual fruit is produced in and through our lives as we abide in Jesus, which includes gathering together in community to study his Word and worship.

There is only one command of God that humans have not failed to do… God’s first recorded words to Adam were, “Be fruitful and multiply,” (Genesis 1:28). This meant having children but on a spiritual level, it also means for us being fruitful in serving God and other ways. Jesus gave a similar commission when He said, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain,” (John 15:16). Just before His ascension, Jesus commanded His followers to, “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

So, how can you work with God in His garden? Jesus said, “Abide in Me” (John 15:4, 5).

First, you must have the right seed: Jesus is the seed of Salvation. You must receive Him and be vitally connected to Him (John 1:12). When you believe in Jesus, yielding your life to Him, He grafts you into Himself (Romans 11:17). This speaks of personal salvation. Has that happened to you?

The soil of your life must be cultivated: This involves abiding in Jesus. He said “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). Consider this interpretation:

  1. If you abide in Me – that would be worship.
  2. My words abide in you – that would be Bible study or involvement in a small group.
  3. Ask whatever you will – that is obviously prayer.
  4. It shall be done for you – that could be personal obedience (John 15:10).

Having good soil includes getting the rocks and weeds out of the soil. Rocks and weeds could refer to sinful attitudes and habits, which prevent spiritual fruit bearing.

Jesus said, “My Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1), which could be translated “farmer” or “gardener.” God’s Holy Spirit shows Christians areas that need work, and change. Our humble response to His conviction allows God to get the rocks and weeds of sin out of our lives.

Jesus says the vinedresser “takes away” or “prunes” the unfruitful branches to increase their fruitfulness, (John 15:2). Many plants produce too many leaves and unfruitful branches. This compares to Christians who get too busy (even in good church related activities) or get their priorities confused. Our lives may be filled with many good activities while neglecting the best, such as worship, Bible study, prayer and witnessing. Does God need to prune your life of unfruitful activities so that He can make you more fruitful for Him?

Gardens need to be protected:  In literal gardens, there are enemies like rabbits, deer and insects. This could compare to the attacks of the enemy. Our divine “vinedresser” will defend us as we abide in Christ.

  1. Sunshine and rain involve God’s gracious response to our prayers.
  2. The nutrients from the soil could be compared to the food of His Word.
  3. Fertilizer could be our kind deeds to others preparing them for the seed.

So, how is your spiritual garden? Is it fruitful for God? Abide in Christ and His Word. With His power and grace you can have a bumper crop. Amen.

Disciple-Making Pastor, Part 6

The Understanding of a Disciple Making Pastor:

He commits time and resources to this effort. He understands the big picture – ideology, revolution for structural change. Theology of the church must be secure.

  1. The kingdom is the model: (Matthew 12:28, Luke 17:20-21, Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14, Mark 6:12).
  2. The cross is the means: with respect for resource and character, not methodology – (Mark 10:45, Mark 8:31-34).
  3. The commission is the method: clearly understood objectives produce sustained conviction. The church exists for mission – salt, light, leaven, a family, kingdom of priests, building, body, temple.
  4. The coming is the motive: to strengthen convictions and bring personal rewards (1 Corinthians 3:12-15) and accountability (what would we do without exams?).

The Commitment of a Disciple-Making Pastor:

Placing Disciple Making at the Heart of the Church (Isaiah 29:13). Why so often disciple-making gets only lip service? First, a belief that discipleship is a program that fits into a department of the church. Second, the pastor does not always make disciple-making his personal responsibility, Third, disciple-making may be believed to be too narrow for the local church (for only a small group of ultra-committed soldiers of the church).

  1. Proclaim is from the pulpit.
  2. Write it down and make it church dogma.
  3. Model disciple-making at the staff level.

Providing Clear Identification and Communication: avoid fuzzy thinking and call people toward obedient action of making disciples. The pastor is in charge of the cardiovascular concept, care for the heart of the church.

Proclaiming Priesthood of All Believers: (1 Peter 2:5, 9, Revelation 5:10) – Christians have the authority and responsibility to minister for Christ as the priesthood traditionally did. The word “called” (kletos) means vocation (1 Corinthians 1:26, Ephesians 4:1, Romans 1:6-7, Ephesians 4:11-12, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

  1. Pastor gives permission.
  2. Pastor gives direction – Reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-21), Edification (Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Peter 4:10-11), Physical need (Luke 4:18-19)
  3. Pastor give training.

Planning on a Process of Multiplication: You did not choose Me but I chose you, to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last (John 15:8). Would you rather have $1 million today or 1 penny today doubled each day for 30 days? ($10,737,418.24). The world will not be reached through addition!

Prioritizing Disciple-Making: (Matthew 28:18-20). Fruit is expected (John 15:8, 16).

Proper Selection of Personnel: (2 Timothy 2:2). Multiplication requires several passes of the baton. Multiplication requires that those who have it pass it on. Multiplication means passing the baton to the right people (reliability) – Luke 16:10, 1 Corinthians 4:2). Multiplication means passing it on to qualified people (proven they can be trusted) – giftedness and suitability, not spirituality.

How to Fulfill Your Calling

I am participating in the Dave Ramsey EntreLeadership event at Regent University this Friday (November 5), so I was already thinking about leadership. I was recently reminded about Isaiah 1:19, which has always been one of my favorite leadership Scriptures. The NIV says it this way, “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.”

Add the next verse in Peterson’s paraphrase and we get this, “If you’ll willingly obey, you’ll feast like kings. But if you’re willful and stubborn, you’ll die like dogs. That’s right. God says so” (The Message) – Isaiah 1:19-20.

The word eat means satisfied, fulfilled, content, and to enjoy. I suppose that is something all of us want out of life. Sometimes I read on Facebook where a friend might say, “I love my life,” but can I honestly say that? Or do I allow disappointments, stress or unrealistic expectations to distract me from the pure pleasure of ministry; serving God and others?

This verse promises we can live fulfilled, enjoyable lives. But there’s a catch! First, we must be willing and obedient; willing to do things God’s way and be obedient to His leadership. As a leader (or parent, spouse, boss, deacon, employee, worship leader, children’s teacher, or whatever) we must be willing to do things that others are not doing. It sort of comes with the territory. Leaders do what is necessary to get the job done, not looking for credit or passing blame.We see a need and we do whatever it takes to meet that need.

The question then becomes, “When others criticize, or disappoint, or abandon you, are you still willing to let God shape you through His refining process?” In other words, are you willing to be stretched? Are you willing to do things that you know are beyond your abilities. Wait a minute! If we do things beyond our abilities, it seems that we are allowing God to work through us; using our weaknesses for His glory and His kingdom. It’s hard to boast about ourselves when there is no doubt that God accomplished the task (through us).

Consider 1 Peter 5:10 “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace … will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

Being stretched by God means you will:

  1. Be uncomfortable: allow God to push you beyond your comfort zone, forced to grow, change, and be vulnerable to others.
  2. Give up your rights: to be offended, to not forgive, to be right, to judge, to not care or walk away when things get tough.
  3. Discipline your flesh: change your habits, introduce new disciplines, deal with stress in a healthy manner.
  4. Only do now that which you can live with tomorrow: always keep the big picture in mind, even when you want to react to the moment.
  5. Turn your back on the ordinary: accept the fact that God has extraordinary things for you, and be willing to take steps of faith in that direction.

To fulfill our calling as leaders, we don’t have the luxury of staying the same lovable person we are today! Remember that while this stretching ultimately glorifies God in our lives; our fulfillment and enjoyment comes as we are better able to impact others for the Kingdom.

[print_link]  [email_link]

Only 40 Days to Live

At the Men’s Breakfast last weekend, Terry Rae, Executive Director of Africa for Christ, gave a challenging talk, hitting the hearts of men. He asked a blunt question, “What would you do if you knew you had only 40 days to live?” I thought a hard sell evangelistic message was on the way, but I really appreciated the insight he shared directed toward men. He pointed our attention to Jesus, between his resurrection and his ascension… 40 days, and what Jesus did with the time he had left.

Jesus expressed love to people: he found Mary at the tomb and expressed love for her and the others. She did not recognize him at first; she thought he may be the gardener (John 20:14-16). How often do we not see those around us who are in need of an encouraging word, a thoughtful deed, or a random act of kindness? Men need to express love to those around them, especially to your wife and children. Rae said that the essence of love is giving. If we open our hearts to God’s love, then we will be able to receive it and share it with others.

Jesus healed broken relationships: Peter had denied Jesus in the temple courtyard, something he strongly denied he would ever do. Once the predicted event happened, Peter was in turmoil over what he had done (Matthew 26:33-34). After the resurrection, Jesus finds the disciples fishing and invited them to the shore for a little breakfast in Galilee. Peter was asked if he loved Jesus, three times, and he was able to be restored into good relationship with his Savior (John 21:15, 16, 17). What relationships do you have in our life that need extra attention and reconciliation?

Jesus left a memory box: As the two men were on the road to Emmaus, Jesus caught up to them and asked the topic of their discussion. They did not recognize Jesus all day, until the time of the evening meal, when Jesus took the bread and blessed it. Then they recognized their guest to be Jesus. The memory box was the Lord’s Supper, to be done as often as we remember the sacrifice of Christ (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25). It is a memorial. For men, husbands and fathers… what will you leave to your family? What legacy are you building in your children? For what will your family remember of you after you’re gone? May I recommend a letter? This summer I intend to challenge each of us to become letter-writers; one each to your wife, children, parents and finally one to be left behind when you leave this world. I’ll share more about writing letters this spring.

Jesus spoke about the kingdom: He had a message of life after death, and he spoke about declaring this message throughout the whole world… it is called the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). We must also ask how we are personalizing this final word of Christ, and how we might help others to understand the reality of the Christian faith.

Jesus paid out debts: On a spiritual level Jesus sacrificed himself in order to bring salvation to a lost and dying world (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). Practically, how can we make sure what we leave behind to our family is debt free? I dare say this will also involve sacrifice of our personal desires for more toys and pleasures. We need to also pass on to our kids the passion to stay out of debt… a worthy goal having been through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University! (see Proverbs 22:6, 7)

Next time I intend to address the issue of a father’s blessing on his children. Have a great week, our next get together is on Saturday, March 27 at 7:30.