Citizens of the Winning Kingdom

Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is the “good news” (Luke 4:43) that he charged his disciples (and all of us) with telling everyone about (Luke 9:60).  In the prayer he taught the disciples, he prayed for God’s Kingdom to come. (Matthew 6:10) He declared that we should seek the Kingdom of God above all else. (Matthew 6:33) He warned us that the door into the Kingdom of God is narrow. (Luke 13:24) He assured us that he was going to prepare a place for us there and that the only way is through him. (John 14:2-6)

The Bible assures us that ultimately, God’s Kingdom will come to earth – and those of us that are citizens of the Kingdom of God will live with God in his Kingdom forever.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” – Revelation 21:1-3 NLT

In the meantime, those of us that are citizens of the Kingdom of God must live as such and not adopt the customs of the Kingdom of this earth which God has given Satan temporary dominion over (John 12:31). Living as part of God’s Kingdom here on earth is living by God’s power. (1 Corinthians 4:20) It is a matter of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17) It is being armed with the Armor of God, ready to fight the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world. (Ephesians 6:12)

Satan knows how the story ends. He knows his days are numbered (Revelations 20:10). And his goal is to bring as many down with him as he can. He is a liar – the father of lies. (John 8:44) He masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) and he prowls like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). Don’t underestimate his power — but never forget that if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you are a citizen of the Kingdom of God. You are on the winning team!!

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. – Ephesians 6:13-17 NLT

 

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?  Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?…No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:35,37-39

Searching for God

The Bible talks a lot about “searching” for God.

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. (Psalms 105:4 NLT)

All night long I search for you; in the morning I earnestly seek for God. (Isaiah 26:9 NLT)

O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. (Psalms 63:1 NLT)

Appeals to search for God are often accompanied with promises for those that do.

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you. (Psalms 9:10 NLT)

Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. (Psalms 119:2 NLT)

The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. (Lamentations 3:25 NLT)

But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “God is great!” (Psalms 70:4 NLT)

So I wondered how we actually go about searching for God. It’s not as though he’s lost and we need to find him. He’s exactly where he’s always been and where he always will be.

One of the dictionary definitions of “search” is: “To explore or examine in order to discover.” – That’s it! That’s exactly what “searching” for God is. Its exploration and discovery! And each day that we spend exploring or examining who God is through time spent in the Bible, or in prayer or worship, we are blessed to discover more and more about who he is and about who we are in him. Then the promises made to those who search for him become more and more real to us each day.

Don’t let a day go by without exploration and discovery. Don’t ever stop searching for God.

Transformed by Jesus

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2 NLT)

When people look at me, do they see me being transformed? Does anything about who I’m becoming as I give my life over to God give them the desire to do the same?

Do they see that even though I still have many of the same day-to-day struggles, the impact they have on me is different? That even in the midst of the trials that come, there is joy and peace that comes from trusting God completely?

Transformation is a process and the journey is different for each of us. But the starting point is the same. — Jesus.

We have to recognize that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. (Romans 3:23)

And for a holy God, the only penalty for unholy sin is death. But God planned all along to take care of that penalty and give us the gift of eternal life. (Romans 6:23)

The penalty was death – but not ours. It was Jesus’. (Romans 5:8)

Once we get that, we need to confess that Jesus is Lord. And believe that God raised him from the dead. And that is the moment we are saved. (Romans 10:7)

Now let the transformation through Christ begin!

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT)

Trust…and remember

I bet when we have a chance to ask God what the most popular question he is asked is, he will tell us it is the question, “Why?”

Even Christians with complete faith in God wonder “why” when things happen that we can’t explain or understand. And even when we’re holding on to the Romans 8:28 promise that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those that love him and are called according to his purpose“, we still wish we could see what God sees. That we could know what God knows.

Over the years as I’ve drawn closer to God, I’ve noticed that he tends to reveal things in little bite-sized pieces…over time. Sometimes we may not even realize that something we read in the Bible or experience in our life will be useful someday. And much like some of the lessons we learned in our highschool textbooks, we will suddenly recall that information when a situation arises in our life.

Even Jesus’ disciples, who spent every day with him for three years, didn’t always understand things in the moment. But as they spent time with him, he continued to show and to tell them things. Some of the lessons had immediate relevance, and some made no sense until later.

This was especially true when Jesus told them about why he had come. About how he would die and then rise again. Even though they knew he was the Messiah (Luke 9:20) that their Jewish Scriptures had spoken of, they could not fully understand what that meant.

I can picture the scene as Jesus foretold his future and urged them to remember what he was saying. I picture the disciples staring at him with confused looks on their faces wondering what in the world he was talking about.

Awe gripped the people as they saw this majestic display of God’s power. While everyone was marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Listen to me and remember what I say. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies.” But they didn’t know what he meant. Its significance was hidden from them, so they couldn’t understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about it. (Luke 9:43-45 NLT)

“Its significance was hidden from them..” Knowing that this was happening to Jesus’ closest earthly friends, with him sitting right in front of them, can that change the way we view our circumstances? Especially the ones that we don’t understand. If we know that God is working everything for good…somehow…then can we have faith that, for the moment, the significance is being hidden from us?

So should we even ask God “why”, then? Of course! For one thing, God already knows we’re wondering. And also because if we continue to cry out to God (not out of lack of faith, but out of a genuine desire to know) – and if we continue to spend time in prayer and in the Bible – he may decide we’re ready for an answer. We have to be sure that we do not let our hearts get hardened by doubt, inhibiting our ability to understand. We must draw on all that God has revealed to us in our past – through his Word or through our experiences – and remember.

“Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? ‘You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all? (Mark 8:17, 18 NLT)

Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. (John 16:4 NLT)

His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him. (John 12:16 NLT)

After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this, and they believed both the Scriptures and what Jesus had said. (John 2:22 NLT)

Where is this world headed?

Each day when I read the news, the world is looking more and more evil. I won’t even bother listing all the awful and immoral things happening today. The lack of God-fearing repentance is growing and growing.

Surely there has been evil in the world since mankind first sinned, but it is getting worse. And Jesus talked about how someday there would be “trouble on a scale beyond what the world has ever seen.” (Matthew 24:21 MSG)

The world is full of people that refuse to know God so they feel no need to live as though they will someday be judged by him.

And many who claim to know God miss the fact that they, too, will be judged – and no matter how “good” they may think they are, they are not perfect, so they will not measure up.

The only way to survive the coming judgement is to have Jesus wrap his arms around you and say, “Yes, Father, this is one of mine.”

The apostle Paul offers a great explanation in the book of Romans. It’s kind of long…but read it!

Romans 1:18-2:16; 3:21-28

But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie.

So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.

They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.

You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.

And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin

But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness.

There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing what is evil—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. When the Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law. And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it. For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight.

Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time.

God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

Self-not

These days society focuses an awful lot on “self”. Self-help. Self-confidence. Self-improvement. Self-indulgence. We are programming entire generations to believe that the world revolves around them. And this sort of self-centeredness is completely contrary to what Jesus taught and exemplified.

Jesus told us to turn from our selfish ways. (Luke 9:23) He spent his entire ministry not worried about his own comfort or what he would gain, but about those around him that were in need … either physically or spiritually. And when he left this earth and took his rightful place in heaven, his followers picked up where he left off. And all these generations later, those of us that have chosen to follow Christ should be living the same way and teaching our children to do so, as well.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. (Philippians 2:3-7 NLT)

…I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:33 NLT)

Today’s common mantras are:

“If it feels good, do it.” – “Put yourself first.” – “If you don’t worry about yourself, no one will.”

But that’s not the way God wants us to approach life. He has put us where we are to show his love to the world around us. He is concerned with each one of us, and if we let him become the center of our world, then we’ll be eternally cared for. And then we can turn our care to the world around us.

Loving discipline

I’ve often heard it said that God doesn’t “punish” people. But is that really true? And if it is – does that mean we shouldn’t expect consequences for our poor choices? As a parent – I know that I must step in and correct my children’s behavior when necessary to help them learn not to repeat it.

God is most certainly gracious and merciful, yet he is also holy and just. As our Father, it seems only right that he would want to correct our undesirable behaviors. So does he punish us?

But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:10 NLT)

He repays people according to their deeds. He treats people as they deserve. (Job 34:11 NLT)

Yikes! That sounds like punishment to me. And since the punishment for sin, any sin, is death – punishment for what we deserve is an eternal bummer.

BUT – God offered an alternative to that eternal punishment when he sent Jesus to take it for us through his death on the cross. And to be victorious over it through his resurrection.

So does God punish? Yes. But can we escape it? Hallelujah – yes we can! By believing that Jesus came and offered the only way out, and by asking him to be our personal Savior.

But escaping eternal punishment, eternal separation from God, does not mean that we will escape the consequences for our bad choices. This is where God’s discipline comes in.

Discipline is different than punishment. Discipline is about correcting a behavior. Bringing into obedience through training. And the Bible clearly states that God disciplines his children in love.

In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God. (Hebrews 12:4-11 MSG)

So don’t be crushed when you experience consequences. Allow them to change you. Pay attention to the consequences God allows in your life. See them as a reminder that you’re heading off the path and turn around. Remember that it is because God loves you and wants the best for you – now and eternally – that he even bothers to correct you.