Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Kingdom Parables: The Value of the Kingdom (audio)

What if you found a treasure you're willing to give up everything for? And if we do give up everything, do we continue to value it as much?

In today's sermon, which is the third in the series on The Kingdom Parables, Jesus compares the value of a treasure discovered in a field, as well as a pearl that cost a merchant all he had. But what of the man who owned the field that contained the treasure? Did he not know the treasure was there? Did he care if he did know?

Take a listen to this sermon, and I hope you're challenged by what you hear.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Kingdom Parables: Seed on the Soil (audio)

How exactly does a seed turn into a plant?

Science may be able to tell us the how's, but it doesn't control the process by which the nutrients of the soil interact with the seed, and it doesn't cause the rain to fall or the sun to shine so that they can provide their part.

This is how Jesus explains the first parable we're looking at in today's sermon, found in Mark 4:26-32.

The second parable is the mustard seed, which starts off small, but becomes one of the largest plants.

What do these say exactly about the Kingdom of God? Take a listen to find out.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Kingdom Parables: New Cloth and New Wine (audio)

We love tradition. It's comfortable, it's broken in, it gives us delight. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with it.

Sometimes though tradition can get in the way when God is wanting to do something new.

The question was posed to Jesus about why His disciples didn't fast. The pharisees' disciples fasted, as did John the Baptist's disciples. That led Jesus into revealing a truth about the Kingdom of God. Both groups were anticipating its arrival. The pharisees believed though that strict adherence to the Law and the traditions built up around it were what would bring it about (new patch on old cloth).

John the Baptist's disciples were primed for something new. They knew things were going to change. But they loved the tradition too and didn't recognize that God was doing something new, and they kept doing the old while the new was with them (new wine into old wineskin).

This is the first sermon in the series where we'll be looking at the parables Jesus told concerning the Kingdom of God:

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Everyone who is of the truth

Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.

For the longest time I've tried not to be political. It's been my belief that I'd rather be known for proclaiming the gospel than being known for who I supported in elections or what my positions on various social issues were. The past couple of years though has made that very difficult, and I am now at the point where I can't separate the gospel message from politics. The gospel is itself political.

The italicized account that started this blog post off informs us that Jesus is a King. He is not the King of a far off country, or of a future nation. He said to Pilate "My kingdom is not of this world." It is not the kind of kingdom that operates the way kingdoms of the world operates. It isn't established on the conquests of armies, and it doesn't sell off justice to the highest bidder, or the loudest lobbyists. Yet Jesus Himself talked of His kingdom being in existence right then.

The gospel is then the law by which His Kingdom operates. Jesus makes it clear that it is more than just an intellectual agreement, but a change in our lives that we live out in the world around us. This has an effect on us socially, and this must mean that, in some way, the gospel is political. Politics is social, and has a societal effect.

Christians, the followers of Jesus, are then brought into His kingdom as its citizens. Jesus said we are to seek His kingdom first, and His righteousness. But what exactly does this mean?

Prior to Jesus' conversation with Pilate, He was approached by representatives of the scribes and pharisees, and the chief priests and Herodians. They represented more conservative and more liberal elements of Jewish society. They were looking to trap Jesus into saying something partisan in order to discredit Him, and they chose the issue of taxes. They said to Him "You are not partial to anyone, and You teach the ways of God truthfully." Of course they were being sarcastic about it, but I believe they unintentionally spoke the truth in that statement.

In a post-modern world, the idea of truth is open to interpretation. Those who are more conservative look to objective truth, indisputable facts and figures that are right regardless. Those who are more liberal see truth as subjective, something that we can determine for ourselves.

Jesus was neither of these. Both the conservative and liberal elements of Judaism wanted to see Jesus dead. Jesus was Human, a person, a subject. In establishing His kingdom He brought it into our own experience, and it truly changed the lives of thousands of people. The rule and law of God was no longer cold and distant, written down on stone tablets to be read and studied, but lived both in and out. Yet Jesus made it impossible for those who met Him and knew Him to pick and choose between His words and His deeds, determining for themselves what of Him was true and wasn't.

"Those who are of the truth" is supposed to be the Church, the very embodiment of the Kingdom of God in our world. The problem is we haven't done a very good job of hearing His voice.

We look back on history and wonder how the Church could compromise the gospel message so often. We look at the fall of Rome as the political reality was changing and the Church was gaining in worldly power and influence as a time when the Church shifted its focus. More and more as its influence in worldly politics grew, its corruption grew. Instead of turning the other cheek we were starting and perpetuating wars. Sure there were external enemies such as those who represented a new religion called Islam, but there were also those who were considered enemies internally if they didn't closely follow the teachings of the Church. Not Christ, but the Church. Too many of the poorest of Europe were kept in ignorance over what Jesus actually said and taught.

The promise of worldly power is enticing, and maybe we even think that we'll end up doing God's will if we have worldly power and influence. But that power is not from God. Satan tried to get Jesus to bypass the cross by offering Him all the kingdoms of the world, if only He would bow down and worship him.

But worldly kingdoms are not the Kingdom of God. They can't be what the Kingdom of God is, or represent what the Kingdom of God represents. Thinking that we can buddy up to the powerful and influential in order to do what God has called us to do is idolatrous. It is not putting the Kingdom of God first.

"America first" is a nice policy when the President is proclaiming it. It should be expected that a nation's leader should put the interests of the nation they're leading before the interests of other nations. But the Church should not be as enthusiastic about that. "America first" is an idolatrous gospel. As people who should pray for the peace and prosperity of the nation, it isn't that we shouldn't support our worldly kingdom where we can, but not at the cost of God's kingdom.

The Church has become mostly just another partisan voice in a world full of them. Yet we are supposed to hear the truth, and stand with the truth. However we try to baptize our beliefs instead of listening first to the voice of Jesus. We think American values must be Biblical values. We wrap the Bible in the flag. We pick and choose what we like of Jesus, and reject what we don't. And all partisan sides do this.

If we are truly of the truth, this must not happen. The Church needs to be a voice that speaks the truth to power.

The interesting thing to me is, though Pilate was more so on trial than Jesus was, Jesus subjected Himself to the governing authorities, only to rise again. Following Jesus may cost us something, but it shouldn't cost us our integrity. We won't be citizens of heaven if we're selling it off for worldly influence, especially when the One Who created the world dwells within us.

So as I bring this long post to a close, I am going to say that I am political. My politics don't fit into conservative or liberal circles very nicely, because my politics aren't of this world. Neither is the Kingdom my first allegiance is to.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How The Gospel Is Proclaimed (audio)

As you have been following along in this sermon series I hope you've come to understand that the gospel is more than just saying God came to us in flesh and died for our sins. He came to live and minister among us. But it goes even beyond that. We each can live and minister among people and still not fully proclaim the gospel.

This has been a work in progress for me, particularly over the last several weeks. What I've discovered though is that it's not enough to just go through the motions of loving one another as Jesus loves us, it's actually being vulnerable and letting our guard down so that we can embrace one another in true love.

That's what this sermon is about.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

When Is The Gospel Proclaimed? (audio)

Just telling others about Jesus, and humanity's relationship to Him, is not enough.

Doing a bunch of good works and letting that speak about Jesus on our behalf is not enough.

Combining both, that's what we need to do? But why haven't we done it?

I believe a lot of it has to do with the other labels we carry around with us: liberal, conservative, libertarian, whatever they may be. If we actually be the gospel to someone, we're given a label we don't like. If we proclaim that Jesus and the Father are One and that salvation is only found in Him while we're giving them food to eat and clothes to wear, we're given a label we don't like.

Jesus Himself though was not partial to any, but taught the truth of God. So why can't we?

In some ways this sermon offers up the beginning of an answer to the question. Next week's will build on it, but for right now go ahead and take a listen.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Thoughts on the Inauguration of President Trump

I've detailed previously what I think of Donald Trump, the person, and Christian leaders who openly supported him here, and how important I believe character to be here. My thoughts on those issues have not changed. But here we are now, after an extremely contentious election season, and the most volatile interim time between an election and an inauguration I can remember in my 33 years.

Despite my beliefs, Donald Trump is now the 45th President of the United States. As a citizen of the United States, he is my President. Barack Obama too was my President, though I didn't agree with him either. George W. Bush was President before Obama, and I didn't agree with him either. Our agreement with the President and his administration is not what is important, being duly elected according to what has been set forth in the U.S. Constitution is.

My highest held belief though, which has not been shaken, is that my greatest responsibility is not to a candidate, a party, an ideology, or a sense of nationalism rooted in its form of government and its economics. It is to the Kingdom of God, and to the King of that Kingdom, that my first and greatest allegiance belongs.

It is my belief that in order to be the best citizen of the United States I can be, I must be formed by the King of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus, and the Spirit which came upon Him first.

While I realize that many Christians have strong feelings about Donald J. Trump, either good or bad, it isn't worldly politics that we must be known for. When Jesus lived, walked, and ministered among us, both conservative and liberal elements of Jewish society despised Him and sought to see Him turned over to the Roman authorities to be killed. He was not partisan to any of the many camps that existed. Rather, everything He did, said, and taught was the gospel. He called His followers to do what He did, and gave them (and us) the Holy Spirit so that we can.

This nation has had 44 other presidents. Some of them have been good, some of them have been bad. Many, if not most, have had their presidencies re-evaluated as history has gone on. But what remains is the Kingdom of God, and the King of that Kingdom. His body, the Church, has remained, despite what the world has done.

How will we as the Church respond? Will we be known more for our love, and living the gospel as Jesus did? Or will we contribute to the noise, the anger, the hurt, anguish, and confusion, following the example of the world?

We don't yet know what kind of President Donald Trump will be. But we should remain in prayer for him and for our nation. And where we can, in every way we can, we should be the people of redemption as Christ has redeemed us. Being citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven is not tied to who is in the White House or what party controls the Congress and the Senate. Let us be the people God has made us to be.