The Kingdom of God is a Party

It was Wednesday, January 24 and we were on our way home from my nephew’s wedding via San Diego.  We were doing our morning walk in Mission Bay Park when we encountered a guy named, Mike, and his guinea pig, Chocolate.  As we approached Mike, he was sitting on a rock near the shore in Mission Bay Park. At first glance, I thought that he might have been living in his car because there were some towels and other things by a picnic table near him. He appeared to be somewhere in our age range.  As we got closer, I could see that he had something on the rock beside him. Moving closer still, it appeared to be some sort of animal.  I thought it might be a real small dog or a cat; but it turned out to be a guinea pig named Chocolate. Continue reading

Advertisements

Questions Jesus Asked #94

Luke 12:54-56 – He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?  NIV

Here Jesus is addressing the crowd about their inability to read the spiritual “signs of the times.”  He makes statements about the weather signs that they readily read to help determine what the next day will bring and how to plan to use it; but they fail to read the spiritual signs that are all around them.

Reading spiritual signs can fall into two extremes: 1.) Some people just don’t believe that such signs exist. By denying the existence of such signs, everything becomes coincidence or just random happenstance. 2.) Some people believe that everything or almost everything is a spiritual sign. For example, the number of bubbles in your Starbuck’s drink of choice might determine how “bubbly” your day will be!

The follower of Jesus has been given some pretty awesome help in determining the “signs of the times.” First, we have been given the Bible, God’s Word, which contains prophecy both fulfilled and yet to be fulfilled.  Understanding these passages can help us understand what is happening both in our individual lives and in our world. Secondly, God has given the Holy Spirit to every believer/follower of Jesus.  We are told that He will help us discern or learn what is from God  (John 14:16-18,26; 16:13-15).

A lot is happening in this world and in our individual worlds.  People often say, “What does this  (whatever is happening) mean?”  Some people offer their own interpretation of the signs of the times and offer their solutions. Others offer the politically correct or most popular interpretation of the happenings and their advice for adjusting to those signs.  How many seek the spiritual meaning of the signs of the times and seek to live in light of  what the Bible and the Holy Spirit seem to be saying?  How do many of us as Christ-followers respond to the signs of the times?

Some questions to consider:  What do I consider “signs of the times?”  What are some of the spiritual implications of these signs?  What do I use as my interpretive guide for these signs?  What would the Bible and Holy Spirit say about these signs?  How do I follow Jesus in light of these signs?

Questions Jesus Asked # 93

Luke 12:49-51 – (see also Matthew 10:34-35) –  “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” NIV

Jesus has just completed a discourse to the crowd and then in application to His closest disciples that Warren Wiersbe sums up as “waiting, watching, and working.”  These are attitudes and actions that followers of Jesus need to have and exhibit for the long haul … to fulfill their purposes on this earth just as Jesus in this passage is waiting, watching, and working to accomplish His “baptism” or death on the cross and subsequent resurrection.  To get through that last phase involved opposition or “warring” … spiritual warfare.

Jesus was saying that just as He had opposition, His followers would face opposition.  It would take various forms from downright martyrdom to just ignoring the Gospel message or actively trying to discredit it and make believers into some sort of mentally unbalanced people (sound familiar?)

Just as He was encouraging His followers to be prepared to wait, watch, and work, they need to be prepared to face various types of opposition. Opposition will come in some form, so be prepared to deal with it. So the question is: “How do we prepare to face various types of opposition or spiritual warfare?”  Well, we certainly don’t go to the world for our playbook! A few passages come to mind …

First the example of Jesus: The Gospels indicated that He offered no resistance, and stood silent before His accusers until He was asked directly if He was the Christ or Messiah.  He then responded with the truth which He continued to speak even to Pilate at the appropriate times.  He knew His purpose, and He knew He had to face the cross in order to conquer death.

Then the words of Paul to the Ephesian believers about preparing for spiritual warfare:  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:10-18 – NIV)

       Then the words of Peter to followers of Jesus:  “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.   17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:15-17 – NIV)

So as followers of Jesus today who are waiting, watching, and working for the Kingdom until Jesus returns, how do we face opposition or (spiritual warring) in light of Jesus’ example and Paul and Peter’s words to believers?

Some questions to consider:  How do I react when confronted with spiritual opposition?  Is the opposition to me and/or my personality or Jesus?  Have I spiritually prepared myself for opposition by putting on spiritual armor?  Am I prepared to respond with “gentleness and respect” in the face of opposition?  Do I engage followers of the enemy to vanquish them or help convert them?

Questions Jesus Asked #92

Luke 12:13-15 – Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

      14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”  15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” NIV

As this passage begins (Luke 12:1), it indicates that Jesus is addressing a crowd of “many thousands.” He speaks of such topics as hypocrisy, holding God in reverence, acknowledging Him as Messiah, and the promise of the Holy Spirit. He is interrupted by a man who wants Him to settle a family dispute.

Jesus’ response in the form of a question: “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”; caused me to wonder a little because the Bible seems to indicate that in the end He is the ultimate judge.  So I turned to Warren Wiersbe’s Bible Exposition Commentary for a little insight.

“At this point, a man in the crowd interrupted Jesus and asked Him to solve a family problem. Rabbis were expected to help settle legal matters, but Jesus refused to get involved. Why? Because He knew that no answer He gave would solve the real problem, which was covetousness in the hearts of the two brothers. (The “you” in Luke 12:14 is plural.) As long as both men were greedy, no settlement would be satisfactory. Their greatest need was to have their hearts changed. Like too many people today, they wanted Jesus to serve them but not to save them.”   (from The Bible Exposition Commentary)

Jesus knew that the brothers’ attitudes and greedy desires were at the heart of the matter.  Instead of addressing these issues in their life, they wanted to drag Him into their dispute.  Chances are that even if Jesus did what the brother requested, one or both of the brothers would not be satisfied.  Again instead of simply addressing the surface issue requested, Jesus used a question to address their heart issues.

If the relationship between the brothers had been amicable, and they were familiar with the property laws in the Old Testament, this settlement should have been no problem. However, Jesus realized that there were deeper relational and spiritual issues that needed to be handled by these two brothers.  He indicated that they needed to deal with the greed that took precedence over relationships. He renounced the idea that “he who dies with most toys wins.”  Life is about more than things and the accumulation of things.

Often in our relationship with God, we address our physical needs more often than our spiritual, emotional, and relational needs.  We may sing, “Change my heart, O God” with the congregation; but inside we’re praying more about our wants and desires … many times based more upon what others have than what we need to survive. To build upon what Wiersbe says … we want Jesus to serve our desires and not transform us to be like Him.

Some questions to consider:  In what areas of my life am I more concerned about things than relationships … either with God or with others?  What portion of my prayer life  has to do with my desires for things, and what portion has to do with God changing me to be more like Jesus?  What is one desire or attitude that I need God’s help to change?

Questions Jesus Asked #91

Luke 12:4-9  -see Matt.  10:28-33 (missed it)

      “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 8 I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9 But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.”  NIV

This rhetorical question about the worth of five sparrows is in the midst of Jesus’ teaching of whose opinion we should value the most. Should we be most concerned with those who can affect us physically right here and right now, or should we be most concerned with the opinion of the One who controls our eternal destiny?

This brings to mind the first four verses of Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 which begin:

      The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”  (Psalms 14:1; 53:1 – NIV)

As in Jesus’ day, we live in a time when people question whether or not God cares about His creation and what happens on earth.  Many people even doubt His existence, and conclude if God doesn’t care and may not even exist, why should we be concerned about what He has said or what He thinks?

Jesus’ question about the least of creatures and God’s concern for them is a way of  asserting to His listeners that just as God cares for the lowliest of His creation, He cares for each of us. If God cares for each of us, then He wants the best for each of us, and that best is found in following Jesus (acknowledging Him).  When we acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah sent from heaven to pay the price for our sins (confessing our sins and need for a Savior) and accept Him as the one we want to follow (Lord); then He acknowledges us as part of His forever family (Kingdom).

However, if we live as if God doesn’t exist and if Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection didn’t happen or didn’t matter, we have undervalued our eternal worth and sold ourselves short in eternity.  We didn’t accept the free gift of salvation that Jesus offered to us.

Questions to Consider: When it comes to whose opinion carries most weight in my life, is it other people’s opinions, my opinion, or God’s opinion that matters most?  Are there areas in my life where I act as if God doesn’t exist?  In what ways have I acknowledged Jesus before others?  In what ways have I disowned Him before others?  Are there steps I need to take in order to take better advantage of God’s purpose for me?

Questions Jesus Asked #90

Luke 11:11-13 – see # 8. Matthew 7:9-12 – same question; but refers to Holy Spirit

      “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  NIV

Jesus uses the illustration of earthly fathers desiring to give good gifts to their children as a comparison to our Heavenly Father desiring to give good gifts to His children in both the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke chapter 11). In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew), He simply speaks of the “good gifts” (Matt. 7:10) that God wants to give to those who ask Him. In the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 11:13), the good gift is specified as the Holy Spirit. Continue reading

Merry Christmas! He’s a much bigger gift that you could ever imagine!

tempe-n-bearHave you ever gotten a gift for Christmas for which you hoped but never imagined that you would really get it? Surprise! You got it, and it was so much bigger and better than you could have ever imagined.

The other night my friend, Bill, told me that his granddaughter had won a 94 inch FAO Schwartz teddy bear at a local department store.  He showed me this picture of his granddaughter with the bear.  Look at the size of the gift and the size of the child!  Now, I’m not sure of what she was thinking when her parents told her that she had be given a giant teddy bear; but this bear was a whole lot larger than any teddy bear that she had ever seen.  What does a little girl do with a giant teddy bear?  My answer: she loves it as she begins to realize just how big it really is. Continue reading