Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Kingdom Living Here and Now


Romans 14:17-18 states, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing God and approved by men."  When the Apostle Paul wrote those words he was teaching about disputes between stronger and weaker brothers in the faith concerning the eating of meat that had been offered to idols. Verse 17 is a general axiom about the nature of the kingdom of God. Though some wanted to focus on disputes over what to eat and drink, Paul said the focus of God's kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. So, what's so important about these three aspects of the kingdom?
Righteousness: The kingdom of God is a righteous kingdom because God himself is righteous (Romans 1:17). It is also true that God demands righteousness of those who stand before Him (Psalm 1:5-6). But the best news is that God provided that needed righteousness in the finished work of Christ on the cross (1 Peter 3:8). Furthermore, God preaches righteousness in the gospel message (2 Corinthians 5:20), and He bestows righteousness on those who trust in Christ for salvation (Romans 3:22, 5:17). Not only is righteousness a central quality in the Kingdom of God, but it is also conspicuous in its absence from any other kingdom other than God's kingdom. Those who observe the kingdom of God can't help but notice the profound difference between what is godly and what is worldly. It is because of Christ, that our inheritance of righteousness becomes real in our daily lives, both now and for eternity.
Peace: This quality is related to righteousness in that one naturally follows after the other. The peace Paul wrote about was much like the kind of peace attached to the Hebrew word "shalom". This is not just an absence of strife, but it also includes the perfect well-being that comes from being reconciled to God. Because we dwell in a kingdom of righteousness, and because we have been declared righteous ourselves, we are able to be at peace with God and our fellow believers. Peace encompasses both a God-ward and a man-ward dimension that creates great blessing within the church.
Joy in the Holy Spirit: Once again, there is a naturally sequential relationship between righteousness, peace, and joy. The first two qualities are such delightful characteristics that they cannot help but result in joy. But notice that this is not just any kind of joy nor is it the same thing as common happiness. Joy in the Holy Spirit is not produced in the world, nor can it be received by the world in normal physical ways. This kind of joy is not related to circumstance. It is, however, a natural fruit of the Holy Spirit's presence.
These three qualities are not created by human effort. Furthermore, these fine qualities are unselfish in nature. They are not individualistic, but rather interdependent, and especially so since the kingdom of God is the domain of the church. Jesus didn't die on the cross solely for the sake of individual sinners. He gave himself as a sacrifice for the church, to bring her to himself as a bride without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:25-27) Therefore, the kingdom qualities we have just addressed are the same qualities God intends for the world to find dwelling in the life of the Church, not just in the heavenly hereafter, but in the here and now.

(This article is a condensation of Chapter 11, Life in the Kingdom, from Ed Skidmore's book, Our Spiritual Inheritance, )

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Karma? (revised ending)









I have just uploaded a new and revised ending to my Karma video On YouTube. Take a look.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Karma?



I just posted a new devotional video to YouTube. It is Called "Karma?" and compares the Hindu teaching of karma with the Biblical teaching on God's grace. Take a look! Here is the link.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Worthy Walk


Colossians 1:10, That you might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God (KJV).
When the Apostle Paul wrote these words to the Christians in Colossae he was addressing the need to live out faithfully what the believer knows about his relationship with God. An evangelist told the assembled conference audience, "You're all educated way beyond your level of obedience." We must see to it that our going forth matches with what we claim to know. The truth is that no other endeavor can eclipse the weightiness of our worthy walk.  This is what we are here for. So what does it look like to walk worthy of the Lord?
Pleasing: The Greeks of Paul's time considered it demeaning for a slave to fawn over his master, seeking to fulfil every wish and command.  But it was Paul's teaching that elevated the obedience of a servant from slavish buttering-up of the master to sincere concern for the master's will and purpose. We grow in our knowledge of what pleases the Lord and develop the ability to know instinctively what to do in his behalf without having to be told before we act.
Fruit-bearing: It is no surprise that the worthy walk requires work. But Paul characterized our work as bearing fruit. It was at the last supper that Jesus described himself as the vine and his men as branches. He also told them that if they would abide in him, they would bear fruit. Their part was the abiding; His part was the fruit production. He went on to say that apart from him they could do nothing. This is not a matter of human effort to generate fruit, but of connection to the source from which fruit will naturally burst forth. Though we can't produce lasting fruit on our own, we can't help but bear fruit while abiding in Christ.
Increasing: The metaphor of vines, branches, and fruit bearing also implies another observable aspect of plants: living plants grow. It never ceases to amaze me how the right kind of plant food brings surprising growth in a short period of time. In a very similar way, receiving nourishment from the true vine always results in spiritual growth. It is our growth that is our primary objective. We are to increase in our knowledge of God so that we grow from unstable infancy to stable maturity. The worthy walk has this goal in mind.
With all this in mind, how do we apply ourselves to the daily objective of the worthy walk? The first suggestion is to take a fresh look at all that God has called us to in our connection to Christ (Phil. 3:14). We have a high calling that gives us motivation to live up to what we claim to believe. We must avoid the danger of being educated beyond our level of obedience. Finally, we can certainly ask God to help us abide in Christ every moment of every day. Is your daily walk worthy and pleasing to the Lord who called you and equipped you to serve him and bear fruit in every good work?

This article is a portion of a chapter in my new book Our Spiritual Walk which will be available from Shipmate Press later this month.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tools in the Boat?


I was reading an article by Bill Johnson in Spiritual Java (Chapter 4) which dealt with Jesus asleep in the boat during a storm (Mark 4:35-41). Near the end of the chapter, Bill mentioned that there were tools available in the boat to help Jesus' disciples deal with the storm. Well, that was certainly a new concept to me. I was aware that Jesus himself was in the boat, and in the end, he was the tool they used to deal with the storm. They called out to him and woke him from his sleep so that he could speak to the storm and calm it. But were other tools available to these men within the boat?
Knowing that this was a fishing boat, and that at least four of the men were fishermen by trade, I'm confident there were plenty of tools aboard for the contingencies that often accompany fishing excursions. Perhaps they had something like a bucket that could be used to bail out water which was beginning to fill the bottom of the boat during the storm. There was a tool that could be used to deal with at least one effect of the storm. No doubt there were ropes that could be used to tie down equipment and secure the sails so that the wind would not blow the boat as much. But along with the normal fishing tools in the boat, what other tools might have been available.
The conversation between Jesus and his men in this account gives us a clue as to other tools they could have used. Waking Jesus from a sound sleep, the men said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Now, is it just me, or does that sound rude to you? In my 42 year ministry I've had times when people have made similar statements to me. What the disciples were doing was questioning Jesus' motives. Are you so oblivious to our need that you will ignore it and prove your lack of concern for us?
How could Jesus possibly sleep through such a tempest? Well, for one thing he had just finished an extremely busy day and was exhausted from extended ministry. For another thing, Jesus had no reason to fear because he knew the power that was available whenever it might be needed. At that moment, what Jesus knew was evidently not shared by his fretful men. When Jesus rebuked the storm and calmed the waves with these words, "Peace, be still," his next words to his men were, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" Those words reveal to us another tool that was within the boat that night.  The prayer of faith was a tool Jesus' men could have used had they been aware of it. What Jesus did to the storm was not beyond the realm of possibility for his men. After all, on another occasion, Peter successfully exited the boat and walked on water... at least for a little while. Did the disciples have the tools to calm the storm? Well, the answer is yes...and yes. Jesus was there, and he was the tool they ended up using, but another tool could have been used without needing to awaken Jesus from a much needed sleep. In the same way that Jesus later told his men they could rebuke mountains and make them move, they also had what was needed to calm the storm, but lacked the faith to say what needed to be said. When Jesus rebuked his men for lack of faith, their response was exceeding fear and this odd statement, "Who can this be, that even the wind and sea obey Him!"
Once again, these guys amaze me! First they are rude when waking up their teacher, then they claim to not even know who is with them in the boat! On another later occasion Peter will confess that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Sadly, it looks like on this occasion everyone is oblivious to much of what and who Jesus really is. They seemed to know that waking Jesus was a step in the right direction, but they bypassed other things they might have done on the way to this ultimate step.
The lesson for us to learn from this account is that we also have tools available to us for dealing with our own storms. Sometimes God will allow winds and waves to come our way for the purpose of shaping us into more mature citizens of His kingdom. His desire is not to sit idly by and watch us be swamped, but to see us use the tools available to us for overcoming what ever storms we may face. We have tools like the Word and prayer augmented by belief to use at just the right times.
Are you facing a tempest? Look around and see what tools are available in your boat. Use them in faith toward God and see what happens to your personal storms. Don't accuse Jesus of not caring about your situation. Don't plead and beg as though you serve a selfish and easily peeved deity. Instead, speak bold words of confidence in God's power and see what comes to pass around you. Do you know who is with you in the boat? Do you know all that He can do? Do you understand anything about what he is preparing you to do? Use the tools you have, and deal with the storms you face.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Who's the Parent...really?


I remember reading an article about a woman who blamed the criminal justice system for her son's bad behavior. More specifically, she blamed a local judge and probation officer for not being tough enough on her son to make him tow the line. While I confess to not being in the know about all the hidden details of this story, and while I support judges and probation officers being firm with juvenile offenders, I can't help but wonder when this mother gave up practical custody of her son.
The point here is that police departments, judges, and probation officers make a poor substitute for loving discipline administered in the home.  The only thing the criminal justice system is equipped to handle is criminal behavior, and a loving parent might naturally hope to keep their little darling away from such activity thereby steering them clear of that kind of jurisdiction.
Another group that often gets blamed when things go wrong with youngsters is public school teachers who are no better equipped to handle discipline matters than police departments and court systems. Since my wife is a counselor in a middle school, I have it on good authority that the average teacher in her school is saddled with around 150 students to teach per day. So where does quality one-on-one time fit in with that kind of student-to-teacher ratio?
The only feasible solution to this kind of problem comes back to the home, where it always belongs in the first place. Faithful fathers and mothers, lovingly nurturing with consistent discipline, can nearly always produce godly and admirable offspring.  That was God's plan from the beginning, and it is the only solution that works now. The final words in the Old Testament contain this important promise and warning: "He (the Lord) will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse." (Malachi 4:6)
Anyone who willingly turns their own offspring over to the care of a judge and probation officer has abdicated their parenting role. In essence, they have placed their child under a curse. Again, I ask, "Who's the parent here...really?"