Monday, January 26, 2015

A Kingdom Life

One of the central tenets of Jesus' teaching while he was on the earth was that the kingdom of God was coming, and that the kingdom of heaven was near. The word in our New Testaments that we most often translate into English as kingdom literally means reign or rule. It is the picture of God as being sovereign (king), and that his ruling and reigning usher in true justice, righteous government, peace on earth, and freedom from sin, disease, sickness, and death.
For the Jews in Jesus' day, it was heavily tied to the hopes of the promise land, that a man, a messiah would come, and he would reign as the very vessel of God, bringing justice and righteousness to government, and that he would conquer all of Israel's enemies, and rescue them from the gentiles and their governments. As it turned out, his gracious offer was not limited to the Israelites but it was to be extended even to the gentiles, so that the promise God made to Abraham, that his seed would be a blessing to all people, would come to pass (Genesis 22.18). What is essential to our understanding of the kingdom of God is not location, or time, but rather the effect of God's kingdom. Choosing his rule, and submitting to his authority (reign) not only transfers our loyalty, and guarantees our ultimate redemption, but it sets us on a new course of living in this world, in step with kingdom of God living rather than kingdom of darkness living. Meaning, we start living in this world as if God's kingdom was already fully established, obeying God rather than men, and living victoriously rather than as those who are on the defensive. So then taking our eyes off of the world, what would it look like for you and me to live life victoriously?  
Living a victorious life means doing what is right without worrying about what others outside of the church are not doing right. (Not that I don't care but it does not control my actions or cause me to worry.) It means being stewards of God by fulfilling our original command to care for all of his creation (1 Corinthians 10.26). It means loving my neighbors, and not just those I like (Luke 6.32), and it means protecting the defenseless (Isaiah 1.17).
My favorite part about that message is that it's not defined by lists of do's and don'ts, it's not just rules and regulations of religion and restriction. Instead, its the invitation to do life better. Now that is something worth inviting your friends and family to experience; The kingdom of God is good news.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Spirit of Christmas

When it comes to holy day celebrations I love the Old Testament feasts and my family and I have taken time to celebrate them and to teach our children, but Christmas is a time when our whole society stops to celebrate. So we do, too. I love Christmas. Over the years numerous people have asked me about the validity of celebrating Christmas, to which I respond that God can redeem anything, and without Jesus’ coming as a child we would not have had his life example, his sacrificial death, and his resurrection. So I think Christmas has merit. As for the materialism and excess, well, that is up to you. You don't change the holiday by railing about materialism or Roman sun god celebrations. You stop the spirit of materialism in your own house and you put the focus on Jesus.

Since the time our children were small we taught them that Christmas wasn’t about getting stuff, we didn’t make it about a season of coveting, so presents have always been secondary in our house. We sleep in and then we get up and eat a big breakfast together. We spend time reading the scriptures about Jesus’ birth and the passages about the coming of messiah and we sing. Then someone takes a special stocking off the tree that contains my grandmother’s rosary and tells the story of our family heritage of faith. They remind us of the pastors, nuns, church planters, and faithful Christians that make up that heritage of faith. Then we give Jesus a gift (since it is his “birthday”). We tell each other about how we intend to grow in our faith over the next year. When that is all done, sometime around noon we finally get to our presents. We don’t spend a lot of money either. We save up all year, so that we can pay cash for Christmas and we don’t charge anything because it is about Jesus not materialism. We watch each other open every gift. We celebrate with every person and the receiver of the gift hugs the giver after each gift is given. The gifts are mostly practical and it takes a long time for all of that loving and gratefulness to be expressed. That’s why we need that big breakfast! Then we clean-up the tree mess and head to the kitchen to prepare a feast. It's not spectacular but it has put Christ into our Christmas. 

My kids still tell me that Christmas is better at our house than their friends house. They didn’t miss 5 a.m. present grabs; they got the best gift of all, growing up with a Christ-centered Christmas. You don’t need to do what the Hester family does. You make your own traditions. But   let’s be the joy-givers in the holidays, not the joy-killers. Let’s not rail about what isn’t good enough, or what is too materialistic, or too secular. You be the Christmas spirit you want to see in the world around you.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Feast of Giving Thanks

As we head into this week of thanksgiving, we often think about being thankful for the things we have. The emphasis is on the material, and then we are surprised that people go out the next day and act so materialistic. Ha! Well, I propose something different. The original intent of thanksgiving. It was not at all about being grateful for stuff. It was a day to say thanks to God for what he had done in their lives. The original thanksgiving was not celebrated in the Americas as a result of surviving the winter. It was a feast in the Old Testament, a time to reflect on the goodness of God, and have fellowship with God. This biblical feast included a time of dining with God in the tabernacle (or temple) grounds. The animal was presented to God as an offering of thanksgiving, then they would have a feast with God is his honor. They literally sat down to eat at God’s table, as God’s guest, and the entire meal was eaten in the presence of God, on his terms, and everything about the meal was holy, and all the attention was on God. Notice I did not say it was formal, or rigid, or stuffy, like a bad religious experience. I said it was holy, meaning set apart from other meals, and God was understood to be present, that they were at his table, enjoying fellowship with him.  It could be done at any time of year, and some did it more than once a year. It included lots of wine and joyful celebration. The people stayed and ate until everything was gone. Sometimes it took several days. Sounds like fun doesn’t it? 

As you head into this thanksgiving, its good to be thankful for our blessings, all of our stuff, but the focus really is not what we have, but who has us. Who do we belong too? Who has given us life? Who invites us into his care? Who is worthy of all our attention? Its called thanksgiving not because of the stuff or the stuffing. Its thanksgiving because it is all about God and the great things he has done.