A Relevant Church!

-The Times We Live In!

I find the times we live in, right now, to be incredibly curious times for the church. The numbers are staggering! Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches, in the United States, are closing every year. That means that between 100-200 churches will close this week alone! So, who’s to blame? Many church leaders are trying to convince us that the secular culture & the liberal politics are to blame. But, I don’t believe that! Not for 1 minute do I believe that; and I base that belief on what we see in the book of Acts.

-Outside Forces & Culture!

If outside forces & culture are to blame for the church’s decline, there would be no churches anywhere! The church would have died in the Book of Acts! Yet, the greatest period of church growth began 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection on the Day of Pentecost & it’s recorded, in detail, in the Book of Acts for us! If you read through the Book of Acts, you can’t help but notice how adversarial the culture & the government were toward the church; and, yet, it prospered! Despite persecution that scattered the church; and even the killing of its leaders, the church just blew up with growth!

-New Believers “Multiplied”!

At first, adding new believers to the church by the thousands, but then the number of new followers of Jesus “multiplied” the book of Acts records! Isn’t the contrast interesting? That at a time when the government & culture were antagonistic toward the church, the church just went about her commission to make disciples & grew in unprecedented fashion; but today, many in the evangelical church have become hostile toward politics & the culture, and, we’re shrinking in size and relevance. Just an observation! Not a statement! I’ve mentioned in the past that the only good thing about growing older is the perspective it gives me. I mean no disrespect toward those of you that might be half my age, but I’ve simply had more time to observe how our country & the church have trended!

-The Days Of The “Moral Majority”!

You can read the history, but I lived it! I clearly remember the rise of Jerry Falwell & the Moral Majority in the 1970s. I was a card-carrying member; and I firmly believed that we— the church & the Moral Majority— could change the spiritual trajectory of our nation by voting the right people into office & changing legislation. Like many of my fellow believers, I became politically active. More than once, someone asked me if I would consider running for political office; and I almost did. I watched the church impact the political landscape during the 1980s and much of the 1990,; and we rode that wave into the early 2000s. But if you haven’t noticed, the last 20+ years have not been kind. All that momentum from the 1970s is gone & as the dust continues to settle, here’s what we see— a church that has mostly become irrelevant & a nation that’s become increasingly secular!

-We Quit Making Disciples!

The church in America has mostly become irrelevant because it quit doing what Jesus created it to do! Our sole purpose; our only reason for existence, is for the making of disciples. That’s what we were commissioned to do! If Jesus was about political clout, He had every opportunity to act on it! Israel was ready to make Him king IF He would only throw off the restraints of Rome & lead a rebellion against their occupation. But, that was not the way of His Kingdom! He told His disciples to “…render to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s & to God the things that were God’s…” So, when the church quit making disciples her mission in the 1970s & made politics her Savior, she began to shrink in size & lost whatever “Moral Majority” she might have had. Simply put, we’re in a bad place! There’s only one thing to do! It’s what we always must do when we’re guilty of disobedience! Repent! Judgment must begin at the house of God!

A Favored People!

-The Holy Spirit’s Indwelling!

We are a favored people to live in the age of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of believers. We should be incredibly thankful that we live in a day when the fullness of God’s Triune nature has been revealed; and, because the Spirit is God’s Gift to us, we can have a deeper & fuller relationship with God than did our brothers & sisters who loved God during Old Testament times. It was back in the 1st chapter, v.32, of John’s Gospel when John the Baptizer testified: “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him (Jesus).” Jesus also had many things to say, about the Spirit, in His conversation with Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” John 3:5.

-The Spirit Gives Life!

In John, ch.6, Jesus also said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing ….” But, there’s a major shift in the way that Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit when you turn the page of Scripture to John, chapter 14. God, the Father, seems the most prominent in His Old Testament work with Israel. God, the Son, takes the spotlight in the New Testament as He comes to make atonement for the sin of mankind. But, in some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples, as He prepares to return to the Father after the cross, He elevates the Holy Spirit to front & center by His work in us! The Holy Spirit is truly God’s gift to us!

-It Was More Profitable!

And, though difficult for His disciples to understand at the time, Jesus told them that it was more profitable, for them, that He would return to the Father so the Holy Spirit could come to indwell them. It was more profitable because Jesus, in His human body, could only be in 1 place at a time; and, have an influence limited to a few people at a time. But, the Spirit would be available to minister to every believer in every place in the world at any time! And, from Jesus’ words, in John chapter 14, we come to understand that the Holy Spirit is a Person just like Jesus is a Person.

-He’s Not A Mystical Force!

There are many misconceptions about the Holy Spirit. He’s not some mystical force like Star Wars; nor, is He an impersonal power that God offers to Jesus’ followers. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is God; that, just like Jesus, He is a being with a mind, emotions & will. When Jesus says, “…I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (14:16), He uses the word “allos” (ἄλλος) which is a descriptive word that means: “another of the same kind.” In other words, Jesus is saying that “…the Holy Spirit will be a counselor/helper just like Me.” During Jesus’ ministry with His disciples, He had guided them; He had guarded them, and He had been their Teacher.

-God: The Holy Spirit!

Now, after His death & resurrection, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to do the same thing for them that Jesus had done when He was present. In Acts, chapter 5, after Ananias had lied about the amount of money he had received from the sale of a piece of property, Peter asked him:  “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” So, he lied, Peter said, to the Holy Spirit, right? And, in the very next verse, he says, “You have not lied to men but to God.” He used the Holy Spirit interchangeably with God. So, he lied to the Holy Spirit, who is God, Peter said. That makes Him a person; because you can’t lie to an impersonal force. Then, Jesus finishes His statement to the disciples:  “I will ask the Father,” He says, “and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (14:16). In other words, God’s gift of the Holy Spirit will never be taken from us! God, the Father, has given us the Holy Spirit to enjoy forever!

Radical Trust In Jesus!

-Entering The Kingdom!

Here’s the thing— entrance into the Kingdom of God requires radical trust in Jesus! Why do I say that? In Luke, chapter 5, Jesus is calling His disciples to Himself; and, He comes to Simon Peter, a fisherman; and, v.4 says:  “When Jesus had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’  ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing! But at Your word, I’ll let down the nets.’” Only Jesus could have convinced Peter to do it! And, then, v.6 says:  “When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets began to tear. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man, Lord!’”

-Radical Transformation!

Now it seems to be Luke’s method of operation to use that term, “LORD”, whenever a radical transformation takes place in someone’s life. Peter was radically converted to Jesus Christ; and, from this point forward, he lived the balance of his life for God’s Kingdom in pursuit of God’s Kingdom! In the next chapter, of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus introduces a new kind of value system for entrance into God’s Kingdom. Living for this world’s values will not gain you entry into God’s Kingdom. His Kingdom value system is upside down; and, counter-intuitive when compared with this world. In other words, entrance into the Kingdom of God also requires a new value system! Jesus declares 8 blessings, in His “Sermon On The Mount”, that He says are necessary to enter into God’s Kingdom. Looking at His disciples, “…He said, You who are poor of spirit are blessed because the kingdom of God is yours. You who are now hungry are blessed, because you will be filled. You who now weep are blessed, because you will laugh. You are blessed when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you, and slander your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note—your reward is great in heaven…”

-Kingdom Values!

Jesus’ Kingdom values fly in the face of the things considered of value here in this world. We live in an age of consumerism, narcissism; and, living for today. Those are not values in God’s Kingdom; and, all of it will pass away one day! It is the poor in spirit; or, the humble, that are blessed in God’s Kingdom. There’s deep joy, not the superficial, fleeting happiness that plagues this generation. There is a trade-off! If you desire God’s Kingdom, you have to give up the value system of this world; and, long for the eternal. And, once you enter the Kingdom by new birth; and, begin to follow Jesus radically, the things of this world will begin to lose their appeal. As Jesus changes your affections, you’ll feel the blessings!

-A Sacrificial Life Required!

Here’s one of Jesus’ most difficult sayings:  “As they were traveling on the road someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go!’ Jesus told him, ‘Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.’ Then He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘first let me go bury my father.’ But He told him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’ Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:57-62). There’s more going on here than meets the eye. Earlier, in v.51, it says, “Jesus set His face to Jerusalem.” He’s speaking of His mission as He calls some to follow Him. His mission would end on a cross! God’s Kingdom begins at the cross; and, Jesus calls us to a similar sacrifice!

God’s Kingdom Plans!

-An Eternal Throne!

If you’ve read of Israel’s rebellion & falling away from God in the Old Testament, you know that God’s Kingdom plans, for Israel, were never fully realized. But, God is still determined to place a descendent of King David on an eternal throne that will govern not just Israel; but, the entire world! And, we know that Jesus will ultimately be that fulfillment of God’s Kingdom prophecy! And, for us! His Kingdom will finally be achieved beginning with His return; or, His 2nd coming; followed, by a millennial reign on earth; and, then over a new heavens & a new earth, when the substance, of God’s Kingdom, will finally be realized.

-He Will Dwell Among Us!

And, then, for all eternity it’ll be the people of God living in God’s place under the authority of God. And, He will dwell among us the book of Revelation says. Literally, it says He’ll “pitch a tent” in our midst (21:3). But, where we struggle, in our understanding of the Kingdom, is with some of the teachings of Jesus. There’s a tension there! He speaks of God’s Kingdom as both present; and, still future. When He sent out the 70 He told them to preach, “The Kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:9). That’s “has come”; present tense. To the crowds, in Luke 11, He said, “If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come to you.” Right now! It’s here! In Luke 17:21, He’s even more explicit:  “Behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

-Both Present & Future!

So, how can God’s Kingdom be both present & future? I tend to think that the best answer is that God’s Kingdom is in place right NOW! God IS; and, always HAS BEEN the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. But, the Old Testament was more prophetic; or, forward-looking toward the Messiah’s coming; and, His Kingdom. So, when Jesus came everything changed because the King had come! The Kingdom is in place, in other words. In Mark, Jesus preached the good news of God:  “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near (or, literally, it “has arrived”). Repent and believe the good news” (1:15). So, the Kingdom is both physical and spiritual. Repentance & belief are necessary.

-Spiritual Birth Required!

To enter it physically requires a spiritual rebirth. Look at John’s Gospel, chapter 3, v.1. This is where we begin when we talk about the spiritual aspects of the Kingdom: “There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.’  Jesus replied, ‘I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” You can’t see the physical Kingdom, Jesus told him, unless you’re born again spiritually!

-Reenter Your Mother’s Womb?

And, then, look at v.5. After Nicodemus asked Jesus if he needed to reenter his mother’s womb to be born again, “Jesus answered, ‘I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” To be born of water, many believe, relates to physical birth after living for 9 months in the womb of a mother’s amniotic fluid. And, to be born of the Spirit is easily understood as spiritual birth by the Holy Spirit. You cannot enter God’s Kingdom, Jesus tells him, unless you have BOTH a physical and a spiritual birth. And, in context, Jesus explains the spiritual birth to him in v.16, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Spiritual birth only comes through belief in Jesus; a belief that He is the Messiah; and, that His death on the cross was necessary for our redemption; and, our entry into God’s Kingdom!

The Kingdom Of God!

-Where Trees Fall Up!

As crazy as it sounds, there is a place, in this world, where trees fall “up” when they’ve been cut. The place is in Para, Brazil where thousands of acres of rainforest were flooded with the building of a hydroelectric dam back in 1980. Underwater lumberjacks in submarines harvest trees as far down as 164 feet below the surface; and, they never have to worry about a tree falling on them after it’s been cut since they all fall “up” to the surface. This happens because it’s a place that operates under a different set of laws.

-A Kingdom By A Different Set Of Laws!

From the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, He offered His followers an opportunity to enter the Kingdom of God— a kingdom that operates by a different set of laws! As He unpacked & defined God’s Kingdom over His 3 1/2 year ministry, Jesus was careful to set it apart from the kingdoms of this world. God’s kingdom was nothing like this world’s kingdoms! Even as He stood trial, before Rome, He explained to a somewhat confused Pontius Pilate: “’My kingdom is not of this world,’ said Jesus. ‘If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here’” John 18:36. The principles, of God’s Kingdom, defy the laws of this world.

-What Is Greatness In God’s Kingdom?

In God’s Kingdom what was once up is down; and, what was once down is up. Greatness in God’s Kingdom is completely different from greatness in the kingdoms of this world; and, you will be unable to grasp a significant portion of Jesus’ teaching if you don’t understand the doctrine of God’s Kingdom! I don’t think I’m overstating my case one bit to say that the Kingdom of God is perhaps the main overriding theme in the entire Bible; and, if you dissect the content of all of Jesus’ words, in the 4 Gospels, it is the main message Jesus preached! Depending on your Bible translation, mention of God’s Kingdom is found some 147 times in the New Testament; and, 86 of those are in the 4 Gospels.

-The Substance Of God’s Kingdom!

The substance of God’s Kingdom is the people of God living in God’s place under the authority of God! That is foundational to a doctrinally sound understanding of what God’s kingdom looks like. From eternity past, God purposed to create a people for Himself. And, God’s Kingdom pattern began inside the Garden of Eden where God walked in perfect relationship with Adam & Eve. You can see all God’s Kingdom elements there— the people of God were living in God’s place under the authority of God! But, sin effectively murdered the entire human race in Adam; and, the pattern of God’s Kingdom was broken because of sin. Then, God reestablishes the pattern of His Kingdom through Israel.

-A Christian Nation?

God removes Israel from Egypt, at the Exodus; and, relocates them in the land of promise. Again, we see God’s Kingdom elements— the people of God living in God’s place under the authority of God! It was an utterly unique relationship! It was a Theocracy where God ruled! Never before or never since has there been such a relationship between God and a nation of this world. That’s something we must always keep in mind as we make comparisons to our own country. We are not; nor, have we ever been a “Christian nation” in that sense. We are NOT Israel! Only one nation, Israel, has ever had a “land contract” with God! We are not a Theocracy where God rules through His anointed prophets and kings. Nor has the church replaced Israel! God still has plans for Israel that He intends to finish. Israel remains prominent in Bible Prophecy! And, we also know, from Scripture, that Jesus will ultimately be the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom pattern!  Amen!