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)

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What’s New?

What’s New, According to the Bible?

We like new stuff… new cars, new homes, new gadgets like computers, cell phones and iPads, new shoes, new large screen HD TVs, make new friends, need new ideas, have a new attitude, new wave, newfangled, new day, new dawn, the New Deal, turning over a new leaf, the new kid on the block, new baby in the family, ring out the old and bring in the new, Happy New Year, brand spanking new, something old something new something borrowed something blue, a brave new world, new and improved, looking for that new workout, that new diet, a new recipe, a new direction, and we even have the emperor’s new clothes.

It was Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, who said that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”

3 What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6 The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7 Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8 Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.

9 History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. 10 Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. 11 We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.

He refers to his observation of the effects of repetitious, persistent activity in God’s creation over many generations compared to the brief, comparatively profitless activity of one person which fails to produce lasting satisfaction, so he concludes that all of life is wearisome. He sees life as offering nothing new, and over time nothing will be remembered… so life is futile, it is like chasing after the wind.

But when you read through the Bible, you find A LOT of information on the topic of newness…

New Jerusalem – Revelation 21:2

New Heaven and Earth

  • Isaiah 65:17 (Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore)
  • Isaiah 66:22 (As surely as my new heavens and earth will remain, so will you always be my people, with a name that will never disappear)
  • 2 Peter 3:13 (But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.)
  • Revelation 21:1 (Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared.)

New Creation

  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 (if any person is in Christ, they are a new creation…)
  • Galatians 6:15 (It is not about religious ritual. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation)

New Song – Ps 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1, Isaiah 42:10, Revelation 5:9, 14:3

New Branch – Isaiah 11:1 (Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot— yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.)

New Strength – Isaiah 40:31 (But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.)

New Path – Isaiah 64:16 (I will lead blind Israel down a new path, guiding them along an unfamiliar way. I will brighten the darkness before them and smooth out the road ahead of them. Yes, I will indeed do these things; I will not forsake them.)

New Name

  • Isaiah 62:2 (The nations will see your righteousness. World leaders will be blinded by your glory. And you will be given a new name by the Lord’s own mouth.)
  • Isaiah 62:4 (Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land.” Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride.)
  • Revelation 2:17 (To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.)

New Heart and New Spirit

  • Ezekiel 18:31 (Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.)
  • Ezekiel 36:26 (And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.)

New Patch and New Wine – Matthew 9:16-17 (no one puts new wine into old wineskins)

New World – Matthew 19:28 (Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Mansits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.)

New Tomb – Matthew 27:60 (Jesus was placed in a new tomb)

New Covenant – Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Hebrews 8:13, 12:24 (there’s way to much theology to even comment right now, but the rest of the message will unpack this new covenant)

New Commandment – John 13:34 (love one another)

New Life – Romans 5:18, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 2 Corinthians 5:15, Galatians 3:21, Colossians 3:1, 11, Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 1:23, 3:7 (this is the essence of the entire New Testament)

New Person – Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15-16

New Bodies – 1 Corinthians 15:38, 2 Corinthians 5:4

New Way – 2 Corinthians 3:7-12 (the glory of the new covenant)

New Nature – Colossians 3:10 (Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.)

New Birth – Titus 3:5 (he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.)

New Everything – Revelation 21:5 (And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”)

Wow, so much newness. So on this last Sunday of 2013, and as we launch into a new year, let’s take another look at the passage from Jeremiah 31:31-34…

31 “The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord.

33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

This passage is actually the longest Old Testament passage quoted in the New Testament, and it is applied to the church (2 Corinthians 3:5-18, Hebrews 8:8-12, 10:16-17).

The word “new” is described as “different from one of the same which existed before; made fresh.” There is a larger concept of newness where Scripture expresses God’s concern for people and the creation in four broad categories.

1. God’s New Act: Scripture often calls for us to remember his past activities, such as creation and the exodus, which reveal God’s care for God’s world and God’s people. Although faith is rooted in God’s acts in history, biblical faith does not leave God in the distant past. Time and again writers of Scripture called for God’s people to anticipate God’s new intervention in their lives.

In Isaiah 43:14-21 God promised Babylonian exiles that he was now “doing a new thing” which paralleled God’s acts of saving Israel from Egyptian slavery. It would be THAT big.

By the time we get to the New Testament, God again acted in a new way in Jesus Christ, who offered a new teaching with amazing authority (Mark 1:27). His ministry would be compared to new wine bursting old expectations of God’s involvement in human salvation (Mark 2:22).

There would not only be God acting in a new way, there would be the building of new relationships.

2. New Relationships: The Bible records how God acted in the past to establish relationships, primarily with the descendants of Abraham and the people of Israel at Sinai. Jeremiah anticipated God’s establishing a new covenant with God’s habitually faithless people. This new covenant would make knowledge of the law a matter of the heart, something internal rather than external (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-13).

Take a look at Luke 22:20, After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.

Luke points to the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross as the basis for this new covenant. In Jesus Christ the believer experiences newness of life (Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17) and this renewed life is characterized by new relationships with God and with other people (Ephesians 2:15-16; Colossians 3:10-11). So, we have God’s new acts, bringing new relationships, which leads to new birth.

3. New Birth: Out of the concept of new relationships comes the term, new birth, which refers to God’s gift of spiritual life to undeserving sinners. It is synonymous with regeneration and finds its origin in John 3:1-10, where Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Jesus indicated that the idea of the new birth is rooted in the OT when he scolded Nicodemus for not remembering his seminary Old Testament classes: “Are you a teacher of Israel and don’t know these things?” (John 3:10; cp. Ezekiel 36:26-27).

The new birth is caused by the gracious and sovereign act of God apart from human cooperation or effort (John 1:13; Ephesians 2:4-5). We cannot earn our salvation. God brings this new birth through the preaching of the word of God (1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18).

So, today, you must ask yourself these questions, “Have I experienced this new birth? Am I in a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ?” If you are not sure, or know that you have never taken that step of faith, today is the day that you can nail down your destiny.

The result of the new birth is a changed life; a new life (2 Corinthians 5:17) which includes saving faith, repentance (Ephesians 2:8; Acts 11:18; 16:14) and obedience to God’s law (1 John 3:9). With God’s new acts, and new relationships, and new birth, this all leads us to this new covenant.

4. New Covenant: This New Covenant is all about the unity of five divine covenants we find in the Old Testament: Despite their differences, these covenants reveal a structural and thematic unity of grace that is found throughout all the Scripture. It is NOT simply a matter of Law versus Grace, so let’s take a quick look at these previous covenants.

The Noahic covenant preserves the human race from destruction so that the Messiah might be born. It demonstrates the grace of God in that he promises to patiently put up with the human race until the coming of Christ (cp. Acts 17:30).

The Abrahamic covenant follows the covenant of grace as well, creating a historical lineage or family through which the promised Messiah would come.

The Mosaic covenant, too, is part of the covenant of grace and is an extension of the Abrahamic covenant. The Scriptures specifically says that the Mosaic covenant is established because God “remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exodus 2:24). By delivering Israel from Egypt and forming them into a nation by giving them the Law, God established an arrangement in which all of mankind might see that they cannot live up to the covenant of works, and then they will realize their need for a Savior.

Within the context of the nation of Israel, God founded the Davidic covenant that provided the divine monarchy through which God would govern his redeemed people for all eternity. God also kept this covenant unconditionally, preserving the rebellious Hebrew nation and bringing them back from exile “for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake” (2 Kings 20:4-6 NASB).

This New Covenant brings the covenant of grace to fulfillment with the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ who is the promised Messiah of the covenant of grace. So, in the progressive revelation of these covenants, we can see one unified, unfolding story of God’s plan.

Let’s get back to the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31, which lists four provisions, or “I Will” statements, which indicate what God is going to do:

  1. I will make a new covenant; here God is taking the initiative in making this covenant, this is renewal (v.31)
  2. I will put my instructions deep within them, writing it on their hearts; this is regeneration. (v.33)
  3. I will be their God and they will be my people; this is restoration of relationship. (v.33)
  4. I will forgive their sins and remember them no more; this is removal, complete justification, wiping the board totally clean. (v.34)

This is a profound Word of Hope is for a hopeless people who are alienated from God by their own sin. They have a broken relationship and they are a disobedient people, yet God has not abandoned them. Like the parent of a prodigal child, God longs to gather his people back into his arms again. We know that Jeremiah’s mention of this New Covenant is fulfilled completely in Jesus Christ.

The New Covenant is established by the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. That blood, which guarantees to Israel the New Covenant, also provides for the forgiveness of sins for the believers who are the church. Jesus’ payment for sins is more than adequate to pay for the sins of the whole world.

So, as we make New Year’s resolutions, all these promises that we intend to keep yet faithfully forsake by the end of January, remember this: any plan for the betterment of humanity or society that ignores the sin problem is destined for failure.

It is not enough to change your environment; we need to change our heart problem. God wants to change the hearts of his people so they will WANT to love him and follow him. God initiates a new covenant to replace the old one. Ever since the time of Moses, this old covenant would direct their conduct but did precious little to change their character.

Have you ever wondered why you fail in the Christian life so often? You have been working on your conduct, to adhere to some external list of rules and regulations, do’s and don’ts. What you need is a new heart whereby God will begin to change your character.

Hear the words of the prophet Ezekiel, I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. (Ezekiel 36:26)

Where are you in this new covenant? Have you recognized your alienation from God? Do you understand that Jesus Christ is the only solution to the sin problem and gaining access to the Father? (John 14:6).

God’s new covenant is offered to all those who receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. As the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, that there is nothing new under the sun, today we see that there is plenty of newness in the Bible and in a relationship with God.

What is holding you back from being ALL IN? You have tried to change your behavior, failing year after year. Now it is time for a new heart, a heart transplant. God’s Word can be written to your heart where he can effectively change your character that will eventually change your conduct.

Perhaps without knowing it, maybe this is what you have been seeking all these years, to see God acting in human history, to experience a new relationship with God and with other people, to understand and accept this new birth (receiving forgiveness and power to live a life pleasing to God), and to embrace the new covenant of which Jesus speaks during the last supper, this new covenant in his blood.

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All Things Become New

Welcome to my final message of 2012, as we look forward to a New Year in just a couple of days. It’s hard to believe that 2013 is nearly here.

I enjoy from time to time seeing one of those Extreme Makeover shows; it is amazing what they can do over a short period of time. In this chapter in the Bible, Paul writes about the ultimate makeover any person can have. Paul writes about the new bodies believers will one day receive and about the duty of believers as ambassadors for Christ.

1. Reassurance (2 Corinthians 5:1-8) Paul is telling these believers what to expect in the next life. It had been a while since Jesus was raised from the dead, about 24 years before Paul writes this letter to the Corinthian church. People started asking “How long?” and “When is Jesus returning?” “What happens to US after we die off?” They needed a little reassurance. These first eight verses teach mainly about two bodies…

  1. Old Body (2 Corinthians 5:1a, 2a, 3-4a, 6-8)
    1. It is referred to as an earthly tent being torn down (2 Corinthians 5:1a)
    2. It is filled with weary groaning (2 Corinthians 5:2a)
    3. In this body we groan and are burdened, and dying (2 Corinthians 5:4a)
    4. It reminds us that we are absent from the Lord and we cannot see him (2 Corinthians 5:6-8) Remember that Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to be with us after he left this earth. Since we are not present with Lord, the Spirit is present with us.
      1. The Spirit helps us face the present (2 Corinthians 5:6) be of good courage.
      2. The Spirit stirs our faith (2 Corinthians 5:7) walk by faith and not by sight.
      3. The Spirit sirs our desire to be with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8) we prefer to be at home with the Lord.
  2. New Body (2 Corinthians 5:1b, 2b, 4b-5)
    1. It is referred to as a home or house in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1b) and it is not built with human hands.
    2. We will be clothed in a new heavenly dwelling or body (2 Corinthians 5:2b) and will not be found naked. It was quite troubling to think about the afterlife and having no body, what sort of existence would that be? It is as if they knew that a ghost is never at rest or at peace. Paul then clarifies even further in 2 Corinthians 5:4…
    3. We will be clothed, the old is swallowed up in life, we will NOT a disembodied spirit (2 Corinthians 5:4b) because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
    4. It will be able to see Jesus face to face. God prepared us for this purpose (2 Corinthians 5:5) I see here that God has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. That which is to come is in the presence of our Lord and Savior. God guarantees our hope; the Spirit enhances our hope.

2. Resolve (2 Corinthians 5:9): The NIV uses the word, “So,” while the NASB uses the word, “Therefore” to mean that Paul wrote all these verses to get to his main point. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. Paul’s ambition is to please God in BOTH bodies, here in this life and there in the afterlife. There IS an ambition that is self-serving and selfish, but there is also a holy ambition that seeks to honor and glorify God. Paul’s greatest ambition was to please Jesus Christ, and him alone (Galatians 1:10). The word “pleasing” can also be translated “accepted.” This word indicates that whatever we do in life, if it is pleasing to God, we can be assured that he will accept our behavior. The opposite is also true; if we live a life and offer to God that which displeases him, we can be assured that it will be rejected. We are in a dangerous position when God does not accept our words, worship, lifestyle, habits, prejudices, jokes, movie choices, internet pages we have bookmarked, language and attitudes. This verse is a great introduction into the very next verse, 2 Corinthians 5:10.

3. Review (2 Corinthians 5:10): The apostle reminds his readers of a sobering truth: we all are going to be held accountable. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. There are two things to notice in this one verse…

  1. The Place (2 Corinthians 5:10a): we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. The word here is bema seat; it’s that bench where decisions are handed down by rulers, or the place where awards are handed out to the winner of a competition. This judgment seat will be a place of revelation, the word used is “appear,” which means “to be revealed.” At that time of judgment, there will be no hiding our dirty little secrets. The second thing worth noting is…
  2. The Purpose (2 Corinthians 5:10b): It is here that the quality (or lack of quality) of our life will be determined. The purpose is to, receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Paul is sure to tell us that while not every believer is ambitious for the Lord, ALL believers are going to stand before him one day… so NOW is the time to prepare.
  3. I’ve noticed that people today would rather deny the existence of God than to be held accountable to him. If people really understood that we ALL will be judged one day, and that hell is a real destination, our behavior is bound to change. If on the other hand I can deny that God exists, and that this life is all that there is, I can do as I please, believing I’m not going to be judged or held accountable. If I acknowledge the existence of God, I must also know that I am accountable to that God for my behavior.
  4. Think about our society these past two generations: evolution has permeated most everything our children are taught in school; it is taught as fact instead of theory. Belief in a divine creation is written off as myth, fable and superstition; creationists are narrow-minded, bigoted or unthinking. There’s a term for such a philosophy of life, they call themselves “free thinkers.” Yet, they fail to see that it is only the TRUTH that sets you free, not the rejection of God and the Bible. Evolution teaches our children that they are NOT a special and unique creation of God. This worldview has brought so much evil into our society, and America has embraced it.
  5. Think about it, if we descended from apes, then there is no moral code by which society must live. Those who are the biggest and the toughest will survive… and anyone age 15 and older knows very well that school is the epitome of “survival of the fittest.” So, when some children behave like animals, the world scratches its collective head and wonders why. Why do kids abuse themselves with drugs, alcohol, pornography and promiscuity? Why is society filled with so much tragedy, death and violence? Can it be that we have taught our children for years that they are no more than an animal? They are NOT really a divine creation; something special and unique among all the animals on the planet. They buy into the message that they are no more than “an ape that made it” up the evolutionary ladder. If we teach children that they are no more than mere animals, we should NOT be alarmed when they behave like animals, simply running on instinct, selfishness and hormones.
  6. Let’s get back to the passage. Are there any people here today who do the right things (like being honest, kind, helpful, sexually pure, being a person of integrity) but, perhaps it’s ONLY because you know that you will one day be held accountable for how you lived?
  7. THAT is what Paul is talking about here. We must please God in all that we do, because we will one day stand before the Lord in judgment, for the deeds we have done while in this earthly body. Alright, let’s move on…

4. Recognition (2 Corinthians 5:11) Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. There is an urgency here, to do God’s work, while we still have time to do it. We are motivated by reverence for the Lord. I chose the word “recognition” here because of what I read in the New American Standard text, “we are made manifest to God.” The NIV translates it this way, “What we ARE is plain to God,” while the New Living Translation uses the phrase, “God knows we are sincere.” So, in our sincerity, God is made known by the way we live our lives. People will recognize God by the way we live our lives. Paul is authentic. It seems to be a bold statement, almost as if Paul is boasting about how he is living, because in the very next verse Paul addresses the subject of potential arrogance.

5. Rectitude (2 Corinthians 5:12-13) This word is not used much but it means: character, decency, goodness, honesty, integrity, morality, rightness, uprightness, or virtuousness. Integrity is required of all believers. This verse goes back to 2 Corinthians 3:1, regarding how the Judaizers were proud of their “letters of recommendation.” The point is, if we seek the praise of men in this life, we will NOT get the praise of God at the judgment seat. We need rectitude and integrity. We need to be the same people outside the walls of this sanctuary, as we are inside these walls. If our lives are demonstrating Christ, we don’t need letters of recommendation; or PROOF that we are believers in Christ. Our actions will speak as loud as our words. Second Corinthians 5:13 mentions Paul being crazy or beside himself… if this is the case, it is for GOD. Paul was crazy for God… Are we the same?

6. Relationship (2 Corinthians 5:14-16) I see relationship in these verses because Paul mentions that we are ALL in this together, which means we are relational.

  1. Christ died so that all might die with him (2 Corinthians 5:14) the old life no longer has control over a believer.
  2. Christ died so that all might live in him (2 Corinthians 5:15) we are raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). We are ALSO able to overcome sin. We are no longer a slave to sin whereby we must obey its desires. We ALREADY have the power to say NO.
  3. Christ died so that we might share in the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:16) we see the old man as we look at one another, but a believer is a new person. We no longer see the world or other people with the same eyes as before. Our worldview has changed to a biblical worldview. From now on we do not judge men in a carnal, earthly way, according to appearances, human credentials, or national origin. We see them as precious souls for whom Christ died.

7. Regeneration (2 Corinthians 5:17) Just as Adam was the head of the old creation, Christ is the head of the new creation. If anyone is in Christ, that is, if anyone is saved, he is a new creation. Before conversion, we might have judged others according to human standards. But now all that has changed. Old methods of judging have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Regeneration is the key. We as Christians have long preferred resuscitation over regeneration. We want a new spirit inside this old dead body, we think that is what it takes to be “born again.” But the reality is that we must experience regeneration; become a totally new person, made that way by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This verse is a favorite for many people who have recently been born again, and is often quoted in their personal testimony. Sometimes it gives quite a false impression. Listeners are apt to think that when a man is saved, old habits, evil thoughts, and lustful looks are forever done away, and everything becomes literally new in a person’s life. We all know that’s not true. The verse does NOT describe a believer’s practice but rather his position. Notice it says that if anyone is in Christ. The words in Christ are the key to the passage. In Christ, old things have passed away and all things have become new. Unfortunately, our focus is often changed toward ME and not Christ. I must change my focus from “in me” to “in Christ.” As I progress in the Christian life, I desire that my practice may increasingly correspond to my position.

8. Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19) All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. The key word in this paragraph is reconciliation. Because of rebellion, mankind is the enemy of God and out of fellowship with him. But we were brought back into a relationship with God through the finished work of Christ on the cross. The two are brought back together again. The ministry of reconciliation is explained in the message, that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” God was actively removing the cause of the separation that had come between Himself and mankind by dealing with our sin problem. God does not need to be reconciled, but mankind DOES need to be reconciled to Him. The result is that mankind will no longer have their sins held against them.

Another key phrase in this section is, “not counting the people’s sins against them.” At first glance, it might seem that this verse teaches universal salvation, that all men are saved through the work of Christ on the cross. But that teaching is completely opposite to the rest of the Bible. God has provided a way by which men’s sins might not be imputed (or assigned or counted) against them. Even though the way is available to everyone, it is effective only for those who are in Christ. The sins of unsaved people are counted against them, but the moment lost people trust the Lord Jesus as Savior, they are declared righteous in Christ, and their sins are blotted out.

In addition to God’s reconciling work, he has also committed to His servants the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, He has entrusted his followers with the huge privilege of going into the world and preaching this wonderful message to all people everywhere.

9. Representation (2 Corinthians 5:20) the Bible mentions that we are ambassadors for Christ. We are now representatives of a new kingdom that will never fall, it will last forever. An ambassador is the appointed representative of another nation. He lives in a foreign land representing the country of his citizenship. We are aliens and strangers in this world because our assignment in this life is to be an ambassador for my King.

10. Righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. This verse reminds us that not only are we forgiven for our sins, the deal gets even better because God has put into our account the actual righteousness of Jesus himself. He does not MAKE us righteous, but we are DECLARED righteous. So you may be asking, “What’s the difference?” As human beings, we can never be righteous enough to stand before a holy God, so it is our old sin nature preventing us from actually BEING righteous. But as we receive Christ and the forgiveness he offers, we are DECLARED righteous. The Father looks at sinful human beings and for those who have trusted Christ as their Savior; he sees the shed blood of Christ covering us. The Father sees the righteousness of Christ and declares us righteous.

THAT is what grace is all about. We are able to GET something that we totally don’t deserve. In conclusion, I actually want to go into the next chapter…

11. Reception (2 Corinthians 6:1) As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. Some understand that Paul is addressing the Corinthians and encouraging them to make full use of the grace that had been shown to them. But I think that Paul is still giving an account of the message which he preached to unsaved people. He has already told unbelievers of the marvelous grace which has been offered to them by God. Now he further begs them not to receive such grace in vain. They should not allow the seed of the gospel to fall in barren soil. Rather they should respond to such a marvelous message by receiving the Savior of whom the message tells. Grace is not automatic, you have to take a stand and receive it, as it says in John 1:12, But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.

12. Response (2 Corinthians 6:2) Finally, we are getting to the end! I labeled this section, response, because that is exactly what God wants from you. “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. Don’t put it off any longer. You know when the Spirit of God is working you over, the heart pounds and everything inside of you is screaming to put it off. We know for certain that any voice telling you to wait or delay or put it off for another day, is the voice of the enemy. It directly contradicts this verse that tells us that TODAY is the day of salvation.

As you begin this New Year in just a couple of days, what changes do you need to make?

Maybe you’re lost and you know it, but today is the day that something just clicked and you’re ready to start your new relationship with Christ. You want to be the new creation that Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Step out and come to Christ, while it is still today, because no one is ever assured of another tomorrow.

Maybe you’re a believer but your life has gotten so far away from what you know God wants. It’s time to repent of sin and your worldly behavior and get back to living a life of integrity and purity. You know your personal vice that has dragged you down; confess it to God and receive forgiveness, and enjoy new fellowship with the God who bought you with a price, the blood of his one and only Son. Nail it down today, step out for prayer, let the enemy know that on this day you are recommitting your life to Christ.

If you’re ready to join this church, your search for a church home has brought you here, why not start the New Year right by uniting with King’s Grant? I can show you how.

For all of us here, look at the Next Steps in your outline:

  1. What is this message calling you to do right now?
  2. How will this New Year be different from the last year?
  3. What decision are you putting off until another day?
  4. What motivates you to do God’s will in this world?

Pray: Father, we know deep down that we need an Extreme Makeover, but sometimes we lack the courage to take a stand right now. I pray that you will interrupt our plans and make yourself and your will known to us. What decisions do I need to make? How can lasting change be a reality in my life? Help me to know how deep your love is for us, and let that love compel us toward living a life that draws people toward God. Help us to be authentic in our spirituality, relationships and our daily walk with you. AMEN

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The Transfiguration

Today we are going to continue in the series for the month, called Encounters with Jesus. This message begins with one of the more spectacular events in the life of Jesus, and involves three of his closest men. Then, what follows the transfiguration story is of particular interest because hopefully we will identify with this man who had a son with an unclean spirit. So turn to Mark chapter 9 where we can find a little background to our encounter with Jesus.

ASCENDING the Mountain – Mark 9:1-2a

  1. The Prophecy – Mark 9:1 – Some would not taste death until they saw the kingdom of God, after it has come with power. This would be a reference to the next event which was the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. It was sort of a mini-kingdom vision of Jesus in his glorified state.
  2. The People – Mark 9:2a – Six days later, Jesus selects his three closest men, Peter, James and John to accompany him up to a high mountain. This was likely NOT Mt. Hermon, which has a snowy peak that rises 9,232 feet, and is the highest point in the Promised Land. Perhaps it was one of the foothills surrounding Caesarea Philippi, where Peter made his great confession of Jesus’ identity, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” This transfiguration event evidently made a huge impact on Peter and John, since they refer to the transfiguration in their writings (John 1:14, 2 Peter 1:16-18)

ON the Mountain – Mark 9:2b-8 – he was transfigured before them; so what did they see?

  1. The Apparel of the Savior – Mark 9:2b-3 – When Jesus was born on this earth, his glory was veiled or hidden. At that time he came in humiliation, he was a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief. But He will one day return in glory and no one will mistake Him then. He will be visibly the King of kings and Lord of lords. THIS transfiguration event was a foretaste of things to come.
  2. The Appearance by Elijah and Moses  – Mark 9:4
    1. Elijah is mentioned in Malachi 4:5-6 in connection with the future coming of Christ. I believe THIS is why people in the gospels asked John the Baptist if he were Elijah (John 1:21).
    2. Moses was the lawgiver and liberator of the Hebrew people, while Elijah was the first of the great prophets. The presence of these two men, representing the Law and the Prophets, confirmed the reality that Jesus is the Messiah of Peter’s confession.  We read about Peter’s confession in Mathew 16:16 (You are the Christ, the Son of the living God) which is then followed but the Transfiguration story in Matthew 17.
  3. The Assumption by Peter– Mark 9:5-6
    1. The Title – Mark 9:5 – We often have the same story in different gospels, but there are slight variations in what we read. The synoptic Gospels use three different words for Peter’s addressing of Jesus. Rabbi (Mark 9:5), Master (Luke 9:33), and Lord (Matthew 17:4) are separate Greek translations of whatever Hebrew or Aramaic word Peter used to address Jesus on the mount. Mark’s emphasis is on Jesus’ respected position among the disciples as their leader, so he used the term Rabbi.
    2. The Tents – Mark 9:5 – Three tabernacles (or booths) suggests that he wanted to STAY on the mountain and continue to enjoy this mountaintop experience. But this experience was not to be savored, but to prepare him to carry his cross and live out his faith in the day-to-day world, down in the valleys of life.
    3. The Terror – Mark 9:6 – As you know, Peter often blurted out words without thinking them through. Here, he likely was putting Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah when Christ is clearly in a class by himself. “Let’s make three tents” likely all the tents would be the same kind. THAT is something that should bother us as well. How often do we say that Jesus is our “buddy” or use some other term of familiar endearment to describe him? We must always remember that Jesus is the Creator of this universe, and the Sacrifice that was made in order to bring our salvation. He is much more than a causal relationship; Peter might have forgotten the awe and wonder of who Jesus really was.
    4. The Truth – what can we learn from this event? How about this… How many times do we have some wonderful spiritual experience and our desire is to stay here and never leave? Perhaps the worship was great, the music was wonderful, the retreat was insightful, the conference was uplifting. When we leave the event to go back down the mountain, we can’t wait for the time when we will have another powerful experience to keep us sustained in life. How about THIS for a lesson? Don’t desire to remain on the mountain in memory of a past vision. While we encounter God through our worship experiences here, Jesus needs us to be active in THIS world, OUTSIDE the church walls. Jesus does not intend for us to stay on the mountain, so don’t seek to build a tabernacle or tent so you can stay there. Mountaintop experiences are great, but we belong elsewhere, and I’ll get to THAT in a moment.
  4. The Approval by the Father– Mark 9:7-8
    1. Peter speaks, at an inappropriate time, and a cloud forms. The cloud may have been the shekinah (or glory) cloud which stayed in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and temple in OT times. It was the visible expression of God’s presence. The text indicates the very same thing, the Father shows up; his presence is right there on the mountain.
    2. The Father speaks, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!” It was as if God was telling Peter to “shut up and stop speaking, THIS is my beloved Son, listen to HIM.” He is NOT just one of the boys along with Moses and Elijah, he is MY SON. So for us, when we come into the presence of God, we should NOT be the ones with all the words. Don’t just blurt out something in an awkward moment of silence, but listen.
    3. Here’s a fun fact: Did you know that the voice of God the Father was heard audibly three times during the life of Christ? The other two occasions were at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:11) and during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12:28).

DESCENDING the Mountain – Mark 9:9-10

  1. The Command – Mark 9:9 – On the way down the mountain, Jesus gives the three disciples specific instructions to NOT tell anyone about what they have seen until after his resurrection from the dead.
  2. The Confusion – Mark 9:10 – I love this next verse, that they seized upon the statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead might mean!

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Passion-Driven Sermon, Part 5

The Passion-Driven Sermon: The Passion-Driven Sermon: Practical Theology for Pastoral Preaching (Jim Shaddix).

  1. Preaching from a Biblical Perspective
  2. The Message of Preaching
  3. The Shepherd’s Stewardship in Preaching
  4. The Shepherd’s Power in Preaching
  5. The Shepherd’s Relevance in Preaching

The Shepherd’s Relevance: Application of Incarnation?

Haddon Robinson is quoted as saying, “More heresy is preached in application than in Bible exegesis.”

1. Reforming Application from the Outside In: we must look at the basic nature of God and the passage before we jump in to personal application.

Reclaiming the Relevance: application is not primarily about addressing perceived needs with practical advice but addressing real needs and restoring right relationships.

Redefining the Meaning: as we visit a doctor, we are prescribed medication, which we must apply in order to get better.

  1. Specific Application – involves linking truth with a current situation in the listener’s life.
  2. Stored Application – involves truth that is being deposited and kept for life situations that the listener has not yet fathomed.
  3. Subliminal Application – involves application made below the conscious level. Much of the Spirit is not understood but is truth that is stored below our consciousness.

Redeeming the Focus: what approach to application provides the preacher with the best chance of connecting eternal truth with the most number of listeners? The funnel of relevance narrows at each point.

  1. Theological Application is first – what does the text teach us about God and His relationship with people?
  2. Universal Application – timeless truth in any given passage that is applicable to all people of all time.
  3. Generational Application – which is for all people living on the planet at the time the message is preached.
  4. Cultural Application – which is germane to all people within a particular culture.
  5. Communal Application – involves the connection of truth with those persons whose lives are bound by some type of relationship.
  6. Individual Application – when the preacher seeks to identify and address the needs of individual listeners or selected groups.

2. Transforming Lives from the Inside Out: Christ is to be formed in the believers (Philippians 3:10, 21; Colossians 1:27)

Preaching for Christ’s Character: the target of incarnational preaching is the character of Christ within the believers. The concentric circles are:

  1. Christ in You.
  2. Conscience (mind, will and emotions).
  3. Conduct.
  4. Community.

Preaching for Christ’s Conscience: you are what you eat. A man is what he thinks (Proverbs 23:7). Conscience is general and broad and may influence many different situations. It is more effective than to just change a person’s conduct. Let this mind be in you (Philippians 2:5).

Preaching for Christ’s Conduct: the purpose of preaching ought to see faith expressed in the conduct as a result of character formation and conscience alteration.

Preaching for Christ’s Community: loss of community is one of the most overlooked realities of contemporary church growth. Fundamental questions for the faith community has always been, “Who are we and what do we do?” Many churches are trying to convince a listening audience that we are all on the same page (same language, same problems, on the same journey). Some avoid the language of the church to use the language of the culture. The terms will lose their meanings; terms that help define the community of faith. People are growing in biblical illiteracy.