The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

Matthew 3:1-2 “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

You probably heard the report that came out this week of another high-profile Christian artist who hedged when asked if homosexuality is sin.  The artist stated she loves her friends who are in the lifestyle and will leave the judgment of their behavior to God.  I have a question: Since when are we to allow our love for the sinner to change Biblical standards that declare certain acts to be sin?  John the Baptist didn’t hesitate challenging people to submit to the authority of God’s Laws, and he didn’t have trouble drawing a crowd. 

 It is possible to love the sinner while hating the sin.  I have many friends who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ and openly practice sin of every type.  These friends know I love them but not the lifestyle they embrace. 

 Consider the simplicity of John’s message.  First, you need to repent, which means to change your mind and transform your goals and attitudes toward life.  This involves turning away from past sins and cultivating a reverence for and submission to God.  Second, he spoke of “the kingdom of heaven”, which points to the messianic kingdom of peace foretold by the prophets and promised by God (see Daniel 2:44-45; Isaiah 2:2-5, and Micah 4:1-5). 

 During this Christmas advent you will connect with people who are busy, but their hearts and minds are being drawn to the true meaning of the season.  Don’t underestimate the significance of the simple message that the Christ Child came to make it possible for each of us to turn the sin and regrets of our past to Him and embrace the wonderful relationship and life He has designed for us. 

Let’s sing: “We fall down and lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus…”

 

A DIVIDED NATION CAME TOGETHER

2 Samuel 2:14 “Then Abner said to Joab, ‘Let the young men now arise and compete before us.’  And Joab said, ‘Let them arise.’”

I confess, this story makes me angry.  The Jewish nation was divided over a difference of opinion of who should be the king.  There were some who insisted the king be a descendant of Saul, while others preferred David.  Leaders of the respective camps met and decided to have a couple of dozen young men fight it out to the death.  Several young men needlessly lost their lives because the leaders wanted to prove which side was superior.  I suspect the families and friends of the young men who died could not have cared less which leader was “right” but they did care that their loved ones were struck down.  It would be eight long years of fighting before the Jewish people would set aside their differences and unite under the leadership of one man, David. 

Today our nation is divided by divergent philosophies embodied in political rhetoric.  Decency and kindness have been replaced by incivility and malice.  Unfortunately, I do not believe this will change because the midterm elections are over.  In fact, I suspect the vitriol will only increase.  That is unfortunate and unnecessary, and I propose Christians do something about it. 

I am a big fan of the pledge of allegiance to the American flag and have little or no respect for those who dishonor it.  There is one phrase in the pledge I want to cite here: “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  It doesn’t say one nation under a particular political ideology; it says, “One nation, under God.” 

As Christians, we should present a message of love of county and love of God.  Don’t allow your message to be tainted by the political nonsense.  Present a message of hope through Jesus Christ and let the evidence of the Fruit of the Spirit give credibility to your message. 

The Jewish nation thrived under David’s leadership.  The secret was due, in part, to the fact that he helped lead the people back to the basic principles of God’s laws.  If it worked for David, it will work of us.

Let’s sing: “God bless America, land that I love…”    

 

LIVING BY FAITH

I read an interesting question in our adult Sunday school curriculum: “Is there a link between faith and courage?”  (To what extent will trust in God’s Word impact my choosing the difficult path over the easy path?)   It is a great question.

 I think of faith as absolute trust in God, a conscious decision to trust God’s commitment to extend His inexhaustible resources into our circumstances. 

Consider the example of Abraham.  In Genesis 12 he chose to obey God’s instruction to leave the land and people he was familiar with and move his family to a land he had never seen.  Abraham acted because he trusted God.  In chapter 13, we read where Abraham and his nephew Lot had prospered greatly in the form of livestock.  Both men agreed their prosperity required they go their separate ways. 

Extending deference to his nephew, Abraham allowed Lot to choose where he would move.  Lot made his decision based on what appealed to his eyes, while Abraham relied on the guidance and provision from the Lord.  Lot trusted what he saw while Abraham trusted what He knew.  As it turned out, Abraham made the better decision. 

True faith in God will inevitably stretch us to a place that requires more than our resources or understanding.  Like many of you, I can testify my faith in God has guided and sustained me in the most trying of seasons of my past, and I have full confidence will guide and sustain me in my future.  If my faith in God does not lead me to trust Him in the challenges of life, then my faith is not in him but in me.  Frankly, I think I am better off trusting Him. 

Galatians 3:9 “So those who rely on faith are blessing along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

Let’s sing: “I know that He safely will carry me through no matter what evils betide.  Why should I then care though the tempest may blow, if Jesus walks close to my side?  Living by faith in Jesus above, trusting, confiding in His great love.  From all harm safe in His sheltering arm, I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.” (LIVING BY FAITH, by James Wells & R.E. Winsett)

 

GOING OUT OF HIS WAY FOR YOU

Mark 5 is filled with stories of unimaginable chaos. 

Consider the demon-possessed man in verses 1-20.  Look at life from his perspective, and try to get a sense of what it felt like to be tormented by a legion of demons.  The inner rage must have been overwhelming for this man, who was cutting himself and crying out day and night (v. 5). Consider the degree of loneliness and resentment you would feel after being abandoned by those closest to you — your family that had determined your life was hopelessly out of control.  Who knows how long it had been since this man had a meal or an embrace from anyone who cared!

Consider the man in verses 21-24.  He was a leader in the community with a reputation of being deeply religious, yet his daughter lie at the point of death.  Imagine  the sheer agony of a parent facing the real possibility of burying his child. 

Consider the woman in verses 25-28.  She had suffered with an infirmity for twelve years and had been told by doctors her condition was incurable.  Mark does not mention her husband or family, so we may assume she was trying to deal with all this by herself. 

Now consider the role Jesus played in their lives.  Notice how He went out of His way to minister to the demoniac.  He sailed through the night in a small boat across the Sea of Galilee during such a severe storm that experienced sailors like Peter feared for their lives.  Notice when Jesus met the father of the sick girl and the woman with the issue of blood, He did not panic but calmly and confidently took care of their needs.  

My friend, we can rest assured the Lord will go to any means to minister to the hurting.

Let’s sing: “You may be down and feel like God has somehow forgotten that you are faced with circumstances you can’t get through.  But now it seems that there’s no way out and you’re going under; God’s proven time and time again He’ll take care of you.  And He’ll do it again, He’ll do it again.  If you’ll just take a look at where you are now and where you have been.  Hasn’t He always come through for you?  He’s the same now as then.  You may not know how, you may not know when, but He’ll do it again.”  (HE’LL DO IT AGAIN, by Shirley Caesar)

WE GIVE HIM OUR ALL

 

The first few chapters in the book of Leviticus contain instructions for presenting sacrifices to the Lord as an act of worship.  Two things stand out to me in these chapters.  First, the worshipper is called on to present his very best to the Lord.  Notice in chapters 1 and 4 the Lord repeated the instruction that the sacrifice presented was to be without blemish.  Second, whatever was presented at the altar stayed at the altar.  

1 Peter 1:19 teaches that we no longer need to present animal sacrifices to the Lord because our redemption is secured through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  Praise the Lord!  Though we do not present animal sacrifices today, there are principles we can apply to our relationship with the Lord.  First, God deserves our very best.  Second, what we give to the Lord we release to Him without expectation of retaining partial ownership of what was given. 

Our praise and worship belong to Him.  Our property, finances, time, talents, family, dreams and our future all belong to Him.  Whatever we keep is limited only to what we can do with it.  Whatever we give to Him is subject to His authority and power.  Give Him your very best today. 

Let’s sing: “Lord I give you my heart, I give you my soul, I live for you alone.  Every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake, Lord, have your way in me.”  (I Give You My Heart, by Reuben Morgan)