A Tale of Two Kingdoms

Matthew 6.19-34

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the contrast that Jesus makes between the two kingdoms…and the exclusivity of the two. We either pursue an earthly kingdom where we are the hero…everything is geared toward our own glory, or we pursue the kingdom that Jesus came to bring where He is the Hero…everything is geared toward bringing glory to the Father. There is no middle ground. Why are we so stressed out? Because we are busy building a kingdom…running our own universe, and if we are honest, life in the kingdom rarely crosses our minds.

And while Jesus primarily addresses a religious audience, He also mentions the Gentiles, who were running their own kingdoms as well. You don’t have to be religious to court the favor of people. The desire to build our own kingdoms has plagued us since our first parents decided that being image bearers wasn’t enough…they wanted to be their own gods. And we’ve been building earthly kingdoms ever since.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Why is kingdom-living so hard? Maybe we’re serving another master? Kingdom living requires singleness of purpose, sole devotion to the King…” This seems to be particularly hard in a culture that has made it “all about me”. The American Dream has made earthly kingdom-building a virtue. But the problem is, we don’t believe Jesus. Many of us have fooled ourselves into thinking we can pursue both kingdoms. We fail to see the impossibility of pursuing our own agenda, our own kingdom, while at the same time claiming citizenry in the kingdom that Jesus came to bring. We compartmentalize our lives so that God gets Sunday morning, maybe a night during the week for youth group or small group, but then the rest is ours. And we build our own earthly kingdoms. A quick glance at our calendars or our checkbooks is a pretty good indication of where and what kingdom we’re investing in. Our stress level is also a great barometer.

As I thought about my own life, I still struggle with this. Some days I think I’m getting closer to a single focus on the kingdom, but then evidences of my own earthly kingdom building activities come to light. I find myself looking out for my own glory and wanting the approval of men. And at those times, I notice my stress level rising as I try to run my own universe. It never turns out well.

But what about you? What kingdom are you investing in? You can’t pursue both…eventually your true loyalties will become clear. As kingdom citizens, Jesus wants us to live worry-free lives, but that’s only possible as we learn to make pursuit of His kingdom our highest priority…as we train our eyes to value that which is truly beautiful, that which is truly worth our worship and we allow that to capture our hearts. Kingdom investing looks different for each one of us, but all of us have investments to make with our time, our relationships, our resources… Some of us have been entrusted with more than others. How are you investing what He’s given you? Tozer once said, As base a thing as money often is, it yet can be transmitted into everlasting treasure. It can be converted into food for the hungry and clothing for the poor; it can keep a missionary actively winning lost men to the light of the gospel and thus transmute itself into heavenly values. Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touch with immortality.” (A.W. Tozer, “The Transmutation of Wealth”Born After Midnight, (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1959), 107.)

This story challenges us to consider the kingdom we’re investing in. Are we building a kingdom for ourselves destined to disappoint, or are we investing in the true kingdom that brings with it eternal rewards?

My prayer for us this week is that we boldly and courageously invest in the kingdom work that God has given us to do, letting our light shine so that folks might glorify our Father who is in heaven.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, go to: http://www.centralchristian.org. Follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969 or @cccsotm.

Terrifying Encounter

Three years I spent with Him. Three years of amazing, jaw-dropping ministry, seeing everything from the dead being raised to demons being cast out, the lame walking, the blind seeing, the sick healed, the feeding of a great multitude, Him walking on the water…and then, the beatings, the mocking, the persecution, the flogging, the crucifixion, His death…and then His resurrection, His commission, His ascension. It was an incredible three years. And even afterwards with Peter and the guys in Jerusalem, seeing the gospel spread out to the Gentiles, the death of my brother James… I wrote down my experiences, telling the story of Jesus. The most amazing thing to me was His love for me. I never got over it. I spent some time in Ephesus and wrote a few letters to the flock there. But after a lifetime of ministry, nothing prepared me for that encounter…

Revelation 1. John the disciple whom Jesus loved thought he had seen it all, and as he begins his account of Revelation, he is reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice and His great love. He also exhorts his readers, reminding them that they had been called to be a kingdom of priests, the same charge that Moses had given to the children of Israel in Exodus 19. So far, so good. And then John sees Jesus…and falls like a dead man. Here’s how John describes the scene: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” This was not the carpenter from Galilee…This was the All Powerful Son of God, and John was terrified. And from this opening chapter in the book, there is no doubt who this story is about and who is in control!

Revelation is one of my favorite books to walk through. It would be easy to conclude that a book that deals predominantly with future things has little value for us today, but that could not be further from the truth. Revelation is the consummation of the story that began in Genesis. It is the conclusion of the cosmic battle between good and evil that has be waged for millennia. And we care who wins because our fate is tied up with the people of God throughout the ages. I hope you can journey with us through this terribly wonderful book!

Until next time…stay salty.

Round Two

Sixty some-odd years ago Daniel arrived in Babylon as one of the captive exiles from Jerusalem. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar sat at the helm of the mighty Babylonian empire. Daniel distinguished himself early on in his career as a man of integrity and an uncompromising worshiper of the true God; and he enjoyed favor with both God and Nebuchadnezzar, rising to dizzying heights within the governmental administration.

Decades later, Daniel found himself in a similar role, a rising star, but in a different kingdom. The Medo-Persians had stepped on the world stage as the new conquering kingdom. Daniel was one of three high government officials, and Darius planned on making him the number two guy in the kingdom. Not good news for Daniel’s competitors. Not that Daniel had it out for them at all, but they did not like the idea of this Hebrew ruling over them. So they devised a plot. I’m not sure what it says about government officials today, but at that time these guys thought for sure they would be able to find some “dirt” on Daniel, political or otherwise. But he was above reproach. Eighty + years old and they could find nothing against him. What a testimony to his character. Their only shot was to try to entrap him in regards to the worship of his God. His reputation as a God-follower must have been well-know. They hatched the plot, Darius signed the decree, and worship of God (any god) was forbidden for thirty days. Once the decree was signed, they had Daniel. They knew that he would not compromise, and Darius would therefore be forced to carry out the death sentence – one-way trip to the lions’ den to be mauled by lions. Things seemed to go according to plan, except the king was unusually worried about Daniel’s welfare, and then the unthinkable…Daniel survived the ordeal! That did not bode well for the conspirators, and their lives were forfeited for their treachery. The story ends in much the same way that Daniel and his three friends other encounters with the king end…with the king acknowledging the greatness of God.

So why does Daniel include this story, especially since it highlights many of the same lessons that we’ve already seen in the book (i.e., God’s sovereignty, God’s protection, Daniel, et al. ‘s faithfulness/integrity, etc.)? I believe it has something to do with this being the second of the kingdoms (round two, if you will) that God revealed would rule over the Jews. Babylon was the first. The Persians were the second. God protected a remnant in the first kingdom, and now He’s protecting that same remnant in the second kingdom. For the Jews reading the story, it would be a strong encouragement that God would look out for them in the ensuing kingdoms during the Times of the Gentiles until He sets up His eternal kingdom. The same encouragement is there for us today as God-followers. Even though following God looks many times like losing rather than winning, we can be assured that the kingdoms of this world are temporary and that their power comes only at God’s discretion. He is still sovereign, and He still continues to work in history to bring about His divine purposes. He will establish His kingdom.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

The Next Chapter

Last night we finished the book of Acts. After a harrowing boat ride, Paul finally arrives in Rome. Along the way he ministers not only to sailors and military personnel, but also to the island inhabitants of Malta. The gospel continues to spread. And in Rome he meets with the Jews living there to discuss the charges against him. He presents the hope of the gospel fulfilled in Jesus, but the group rejects the message. Once again he turns to the Gentiles.

Several themes came up as we talked last night. We clearly see God at work expanding His kingdom, directing both individuals and the church. The gospel spreads from Jerusalem to Rome, and the church, which began as a Jewish body, quickly incorporates all nations in fulfillment of Genesis 12 (that through Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed). Opposition grows but the church overcomes. The resurrection is the primary emphasis of the speeches given by major characters in the story like Peter, Stephen and Paul.

The narrative ends with the obvious questions: What happened to Paul? What’s the rest of the story? Luke leaves room for us to add our own chapter. The story of the church and the expansion of God’s kingdom is not finished yet. The story continues still today. But I wonder what those early believers would think of this chapter. Would they recognize the church they fought so hard to establish? When I read about the way that they loved and sacrificed and engaged their culture, I really wonder.

Discussing Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great, with some friends I realized what a stinging indictment his book is against Christianity. The fact that he could lump all of Christendom into the same category of the other world religions so easily, shows that the church as a whole is failing at its job to be salt and light. That an atheist who has had as much contact with Christians as Hitchens did throughout his life is unable to caveat his statements about Christianity because he saw something different about the believers he encountered is telling.

Luke ends the book of Acts with the statement, “Boldly and without hindrance he (Paul) preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” I wonder how boldly we are preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus through both word and action to a world that so desperately needs to hear…

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Surprise!

Surprises. Some people love them. And some people hate them. For me, I’m always a sucker for a good surprise. I don’t like the predictable, the routine, for very long. I enjoy change. Not all of it feels good at the time, but it’s one of the ways that God is shaping my character. James says, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials…” Trials, suffering, difficult circumstances all bring about change of some sort. A greater orientation towards God, or a running further from Him. Growing in the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control), or becoming more mired, sinking deeper in bitterness and despair. The church in Jerusalem was at one of these critical junctures.

In Acts 10, Peter and Cornelius both receive visions; Peter’s opens him up to the prospect of going to visit Cornelius, a Roman centurion (aka Gentile). Cornelius’ vision instructs him to send for Peter to hear the gospel. Peter makes the trek, Cornelius and his house are converted and there is great rejoicing. But then Peter comes back home. The believers in Jerusalem are not only surprised that Peter went to visit Cornelius, they are also shocked and a little perplexed (bordering on anger). What was Peter thinking? But Peter explains how the Holy Spirit had come upon this group of Gentile believers the same as it had come upon them. Who was Peter to stand in the way of God’s work? At that point, the Jerusalem church rejoices (albeit a bit tentatively) that God has brought salvation to the Gentiles.

Why were the Jewish Christians surprised? Should they have been? They didn’t have to be. From the beginning of the Jewish nation, with Abraham, God had promised that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. Moses tells the Israelites coming out of Egypt that they are a kingdom of priests – the same imagery that Peter uses of the church in his first letter. The intent was always salvation/blessing for the world, for all the nations, through the one. Israel was to be a lighthouse. But something went horribly wrong.

God had commanded the Israelites to separate themselves from the evil practices of the nations, to bring judgment on those who had multiplied wickedness in the land. Israel was not to learn their ways. But she was to represent God to the nations. In Ezekiel, God reminds the remnant that God chose them not because they were worthy of being chosen – they weren’t the best or the brightest or the most attractive or the most righteous – He chose them because He chose them. He loved them because of who He is, not because of who they were or what they had done (sound familiar – He is incredible!). But they forgot and supposed that they were worthy of being chosen and that they had exclusive rights to God’s love. And so, instead of being a kingdom of priests, a lighthouse to the nations, of reflecting God’s amazing love for all mankind, they became an impenetrable fortress; and they despised the outsiders.

In Luke, Jesus begins to challenge the disciples view of who God loves and who Jesus came to save. This section in Acts continues that instruction. And God wants this fledgling church to accomplish what Israel was unwilling to do. He wants them to go out and share the message of God’s incredible, all-consuming love with a lost and broken world. In sharp contrast, the story of Bar-Jesus presents an interesting parallel and commentary on the Jewish nation at this point – opposing the apostles who are going out to reach the Gentiles, being blinded and fighting against God.

So what about you? Are you surprised by the breadth and depth God’s amazing love? Are you blown away by His desire to save even those who you may despise? What are you going to do about it?

Until next time…stay salty.