A Life Founded on the Rock

Matthew 7.13-29

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by Jesus’ straightforward invitation to experience life in His kingdom. The choice is clear. He only presents two kingdoms, two ways, two kinds of fruit, two foundations… So how do we take Jesus up on His invitation? How do we enter into the kingdom life that He invites us to experience?

There of course is the initial entrance that comes when we trust in Him for eternal life. It’s a free gift available to all who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He came and lived a perfect life, died a horrible death on our behalf, paying the penalty for our sins, was raised again the third day and ascended to the Father. And that through His death and resurrection we have peace with God, we’ve been reconciled and adopted into His family, becoming sons and daughters of the King.

But then what? I shared a tweet this past week, “Maybe living a kingdom life is so difficult because we fail to approach it intentionally.” In Dallas Willard’s, Divine Conspiracy, he touches on this when he says that discipleship is not something that just happens, but it’s something that we have to intend to do. Living life in the kingdom, following Jesus, doesn’t just happen. It is something we have to intend to do…we have to make the choice. Jesus says things like, “Ask, seek, knock…Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” All speak of intentionality, of cultivating this secret inner life with the Father. And our failure to make that choice may explain why we are so inadequate at kingdom living. And even when we make the choice to live a kingdom life, we should expect that being a disciple of Jesus is a life-long process…a process that requires us to get to know Him. And the only way we get to know Him is through His Word…and prayer and fellowship with His family.

As we mentioned a few weeks back, I believe another reason that we struggle is that we don’t think Jesus knows what He’s talking about…or maybe He just doesn’t understand what life is like today. I mean 21st century America is a far cry from 1st century Israel. How can we be expected to live Jesus’ life today? We’re not. Jesus lived His life and did a perfect job of doing it. We’re to live our lives, but we are to live our lives as Jesus would live them. That means that life in the kingdom doesn’t require that we quit our jobs and become itinerant preachers. On the contrary, it requires us to see our jobs, whether that’s in the office, the home or the classroom, as places of kingdom-living, opportunities for discipleship and ministry.

We always need to keep it before us that practicing righteousness does not make us righteous…but having been made righteous by the King, then our practice of righteousness is simply letting our light shine, of bearing good fruit, that brings glory to the Father.

But what about you? Have you trusted in Jesus for eternal life? If not, will you make that choice today to enter into life…the eternal, kingdom life that He wants for you? If you have trusted in Jesus, have you made the conscious decision to be His disciple…to follow Him and learn from Him so that you might experience all the fullness of the kingdom life He’s called you to?

This story challenges us to choose life, to make following Jesus and living in the kingdom our intention.

My prayer for us this week that we would continue to build upon the Rock, so that come what may we may stand together as a community of kingdom citizens experiencing the fullness of life in the kingdom.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, visit us at: http://www.centralchristian.org, or follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969.

Advertisements

The Golden Rule

Matthew 7.1-12

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the brilliance of Jesus. He is a master Teacher who is able to silence His opponents with a word and expose the futile attempts at a pretend righteousness. How many of us have attempted the Golden Rule, only to find it frustratingly impossible? We’re too busy treating ourselves the way we want to be treated…we don’t have the time or the inclination to treat others that well. That would mean less for me.

The way we judge others is a revealing measure of our progress in kingdom living. It is a good indication of whether or not we are treating others the way we want to be treated. And treating others the way we want to be treated starts with recognizing that they exist and are worthy of the same undeserved love that we have received from the Father. We have to view them as fellow image bearers. Then it means loving them, whether we think them worthy or not. That is impossible for someone who is pretending…whose righteousness is only for show.

I shared a tweet this past week, “The undeserved love of the Father is the good news of the kingdom for heirs (sons and daughters of the King), but pearls before swine for pretenders.” But in saying that, I believe that we have to make the assessment that anyone fits the category of swine very carefully, or we may quickly find ourselves making judgments void of the mercy that Jesus has shown us. And that doesn’t turn out well.

As I thought about my own life, I have a ways to go in this area. Far from loving others, showing undeserved love, as a default position, I tend to make snap judgments. It generally shows up in the way I expect the worst from others rather than the best. And to my continued shame, I’m wrong most of the time.

But what about you? How is your progress in kingdom living? Do you find yourself judging others or legitimately concerned for their progress in the kingdom? Do you show the same kind of undeserved love toward them that you long for yourself, the love you’ve received from the Father, or do you find yourself withholding love because of their failure to measure up? If not, ask, seek, knock.

This story challenges us to keep asking, seeking and knocking for kingdom perspective and the ability to live the life that Jesus calls us to. Imagine how different our relationships would be if we did.

My prayer for us this week is that the Father would give us the desire and the ability to truly treat others the way we want to be treated, not as pretenders but as true kingdom citizens.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this and other sermons based on the Sermon on the Mount (series titled Life in the Kingdom), visit our website at: http://www.centralchristian.org. You can follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969.

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.

Through the Lens of Prayer

Matthew 6.1-18

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the centrality of prayer to this section. In the middle of these three examples, giving to the poor, praying, and fasting, He stops to give instruction on prayer. But why? What is prayer? How vital would you say it is to your Christian walk? Does your practice of prayer reflect it?

I’m afraid that for most of us, prayer is an optional exercise with no real power. We pray because we feel like we should…or maybe we feel like praying will change God’s mind and get Him to see things our way. But that’s not real prayer. The prayer that Jesus talks about has the power of rending the veil between the temporal and the eternal. It allows us to see more clearly the reality of the kingdom. It is practicing the presence of God…recognizing our Father who is always near.

I was also struck by the contrast between the true righteousness of the kingdom citizen and the righteousness of the pretenders, and how easy it is to slip into a righteousness of show…attempting to impress others with our own piety. Trace evidence of our desire to run our own universe and receive our own praise. But we as kingdom citizens must cultivate the inner life of the spirit, learning the secret life that the Father calls us to. And as we cultivate the inner life, we begin to live in the true righteousness of the kingdom. Cultivating the inner life depends on the change of perspective that only prayer can bring.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Prayer is the lens through which we truly begin to see life in the kingdom…” Prayer brings the temporal and eternal together. When we enter prayer, we bring our cares and worries to the One who infinitely cares about us. And He gives kingdom perspective to our day-to-day lives. The inner life of prayer nourishes our soul.

As I thought about my own life, I couldn’t help but reflect on my first ministry job. I was tasked with teaching a class on the spiritual life…should have been easy for someone who just graduated from seminary, right? But I felt so far from God. My righteousness began to stink of the pretend kind, and I was desperate for something more. I wanted to experience the abundant life, the kingdom life that Jesus promised. So I went on a six month quest to discover that life. I began to focus on the inner life of the spirit…combining meditating on the Word with extended times of prayer and silence. I also sought to remove distractions like wasted time in front of a screen. And it was amazing the changes that God wrought during that time. I truly began to enjoy life in the kingdom, and my perspective on others changed. I went from being “cerebral” to being a pastor. For the first time in a long time, I was able to let my light shine…

But what about you? What do you do with this? I want to be clear. Jesus isn’t creating a new Law, but showing us the character qualities of kingdom citizens. The pretenders of righteousness want folks to see their good deeds. The possessors of kingdom righteousness are unaware of others watching. They are too busy being wholesalers of grace…showing mercy, expressing underserved love for those God brings in their path.

For you who are kingdom citizens, are you living like it? Are you practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them? How is that working out for you? My guess is…forgiveness is difficult because you don’t recognize your own need of forgiveness. Those of us who have a low view of our own sin, have an equally low view of God’s grace. Amazing grace? It’s not that amazing… We fail to see our spiritual bankruptcy and any real need for mercy. Pretend righteousness always results in one of two things: pride or self-loathing. Neither characterizes life in the kingdom.

This story challenges us toward a greater dependence on the Father in prayer. And it challenges us to examine our motives…do we let our light shine so that the Father will be glorified, or do we practice a pretend righteousness before men so that we may be glorified?

My prayer for us this week is we would know the true righteousness of the kingdom, that we would cultivate the inner life of the spirit, and that kingdom life will naturally flow out in all our actions this week.

Until next time…stay salty.

For an mp3 of this sermon, go to: http://www.centralchristian.org, or follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969.

 

Beyond the Rules

Matthew 5.17-48

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by how quickly Jesus dismantles the rule-based system of the Pharisees. To be sure, He doesn’t abolish the Law, but He shows very clearly that keeping the rules, if it doesn’t flow from a transformed character, will never accomplish kingdom righteousness. That is very freeing, and very scary. It’s a life of being first and foremost that then naturally leads to a life of doing.

I was also struck by the fact that the five examples that Jesus uses to illustrate our need for a heart transplant all have to do with interpersonal relationships. That our failure in so many of these areas to “keep the Law”, to even do the externals, is a natural consequence of our failure to love. We expect it of the Pharisees, but what about those of us who claim to be kingdom citizens? If life in the kingdom is characterized by love…love for God and love for others, what causes the break-down in our love? Remember when we talked about the Great Commandment…loving God and loving others is impossible when we are busy running our own universe. Life in the kingdom forces a change in perspective, a renewing of our mind so that we can see the beauty and wonder of our Creator and others as His image-bearers.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Righteousness that surpasses manmade constructs can only come from that which is outside of man…” Life in the kingdom can only be experienced fully as we learn to allow the character of the King to permeate all of our lives…breaking down the walls, seeing that life in the kingdom, being a son or daughter of the King, goes far beyond Sunday morning…and asking Him to continually renew our mind, so that we can live in the reality of the kingdom. It’s only as we experience the freedom of being so completely loved by Jesus that we can truly love in turn. And then we can live unexplainable lives…lives that reflect the character of our King; and as the world looks on, they won’t understand how we can live with such freedom and such love. It will force a response…they either persecute us or glorify God. If we are truly living a kingdom life, there is no middle ground.

As I thought about my own life, I realized how easy it is to slip into an external righteousness, a me-centered view of the world, where anger, lust, honesty, revenge and enemies present real challenges. I soon forget that I’m a son of the King who has a new heart, and I fail to act out of that reality. Instead, I fight for my own rights and leave broken relationships in the wake, all the while wondering why I’m not experiencing life in the kingdom. But there are those moments, when I glimpse it, when loving others seems almost effortless…and those are the moments that I long for.

But what about you? What do you do with this? Last week I made the statement that I wanted to be absolutely clear that the beatitudes were not a how-to list for kingdom entry. They represent characteristics of kingdom citizens. The same is true for our talk today. Even by focusing on the internal attitudes along with the external actions, you can’t achieve the righteousness of the kingdom. Let me say it as clearly as I can… If you are like the Pharisees and are counting on your good works or “law keeping” to get into the kingdom, Jesus is telling you that you are out of luck. His standards are too high. You need a new heart. And you need the righteousness of the King. Only His will do.

This is an important idea and makes me think about people today doing Christian things thinking it makes them Christians. Same problem as the original hearers of this sermon, kingdom behaviors will not impact righteousness, but intrinsic righteousness through faith  in Christ should result in kingdom behaviors. Church, baptism, sacraments, are not how to’s of Christianity, they are reflections of heart change and spiritual realities. But we still want to tell non Christians that their behavior should match ours as if the behavior alone has some kind of power to change the heart.

For you who are kingdom citizens, are you living like it? Are you loving others, even your enemies? If not, why not? What would it look like for you to “leave your offering at the altar and be reconciled” to them?

As a friend of mine and I talked about this this week, he had an amazing observation… Jesus is challenging us to a different kind of love…an undeserved love. Seen in this light:

  • Anger – I might have every right to be angry with my brother. Do I show undeserved love in that situation? Or do I call him a fool and be dismissive?
  • Lust – I’m not sure you could use this… What’s the issue for us married guys? “Well, I don’t have THAT at home.” Love your wife well even though she isn’t THAT. Ouch!
  • Honesty – As long as you hold up your end of the bargain, I’ll hold up mine. Undeserved love – I’ll keep my oath even when you break yours.
  • Revenge – I’ve been hurt by this person. Undeserved love – I’m going to continue to love this person even if it means that I might get hurt again.
  • Enemy – I don’t have to love this person, they are bad. Undeserved love – I’m going to take God’s view. Infinite value as image bearer. His desire is for reconciliation with all men.

Flip it around, and we’ve all been on the other side of it too, the ones receiving the undeserved love from the Father.

  • Anger – God pursues His people through His anger and judgment, Israel, us
  • Lust – If God was always looking for the bigger better deal, or to trade up, where would that leave us?
  • Honesty – How often do we hold up our end? Does that impact His faithfulness?
  • Revenge – We don’t want to go there. The Bible is clear about what we deserve.
  • Enemy – The story of the Bible is man becoming enemies of God and God’s plan for reconciliation. Such undeserved love is only possible as we live life in the kingdom, reflecting more and more the character of the King.

This story challenges us toward a more authentic life of faith…life in the kingdom, less focused on doing the right things and more on becoming the right people and the right things will come. My prayer for us this week is live life in the kingdom, loving others and showing off the family resemblance.

Until next time…stay salty.

BTW to hear an mp3 of this sermon, go to: http://www.centralchristian.org. To keep up on twitter: @mattdumas1969, or follow our conversation about Life in the Kingdom (aka the Sermon on the Mount): @cccsotm.

A Dangerous Idea of Blessedness

Matthew 5.1-16

Some friends of mine and I started working our way through the Sermon on the Mount, wanting to see what Jesus had to say about living life in the kingdom. As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by Jesus’ list of kingdom characteristics of those who are citizens of the kingdom, of those who are blessed. It’s probably not the things we would have picked. They are certainly not characteristics that the world values. Those possessing these characteristics would not seem like “winners” from an earthy perspective, or to the spiritually elite, the I’ve-got-it-all-together crowd, the my-universe-is-running-just-fine-thank-you crew. But the kingdom belongs to those who recognize their desperate need for God and long for the reconciliation of heaven and earth.

As I shared on Sunday, the beatitudes are not a “how-to” list of instructions for entrance into the kingdom. They don’t tell you how to get to heaven. But much like the fruits of the Spirit, these are characteristics of folks who are already in the kingdom. They are produced by our connection to the King. And also like the fruit of the Spirit, these characteristics are produced in us and not by us…God produces the fruit as we submit to the process.

I shared a tweet this week, “Jesus has a dangerous idea of blessedness.” Following the unfolding of the beatitudes, there seems to be a progression…poor in spirit, mourning for sin, gentle, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker…that leads inexorably to persecution. Alignment with the King is a dangerous proposition. It could even cost us our life. And why does the persecution come hot and heavy? Because of the undeniability of those who embody kingdom characteristics. The difference in us is going to be obvious to the whole world. Instead of being tasteless salt on some “french fries”, as a friend of mine described it, or a light under a basket, we will be noticeable. We will be a light on a hill. By doing that, by embodying those qualities and living that way, we are bearing the image of God brightly. Pointing people to Him and bringing Him glory. Said another way, if we embody the beatitudes, we will force a response from those around us. Some will persecute us and others with give glory to the Father. Both are good things!

As I thought about my own life, I’ve wrestled with my own saltiness at times and the times where it’s been easier to hide the light than face the consequences of following Jesus openly. As a recent college graduate, I often found it easier to blend in with my co-workers and not to be one of those “Jesus freaks”. But my life was miserable because although I had trusted in Jesus and so was a kingdom citizen, I was not living life in the kingdom. Finally when I had had enough, it was amazing the changes that God wrought in my life…I’m far from perfect, but I started enjoying the benefits of the present kingdom, persecution and all. And it has been worth it.

But what about you? What do you do with this? Some of you are not yet kingdom citizens, you don’t know what it means to be a son or daughter of the King. The beatitudes are not a how to manual for kingdom membership. They reflect the internal qualities that characterize those in the kingdom. It starts with the recognition of your need for Jesus. I would love to talk to you.

For the rest of us, we are in process of realizing more of the kingdom in our lives – all aspects of it. Last week I talked about the boxes we create that neatly divide our lives and keep us from experiencing the kingdom life that Jesus has for us. It is only as we blow up the boxes and allow the character of the kingdom to permeate all aspects of our lives that we truly begin to experience the abundant life…and yes, complete with persecution.

This story challenges us toward a change of perspective. Jesus definition of blessedness is dangerous…but it is true blessedness. It’ living life in the kingdom now. It’s being image-bearers of the King.

My prayer for us this week is that we live in the kingdom…learning more and more what it means to be sons and daughters of the King, and may we see His kingdom expanded.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear this week’s sermon, visit us at: http://www.centralchristian.org. You can also follow me on twitter or facebook at: mattdumas1969.