Tuesday, January 17, 2023

PILLARS 16 - Heaven on Earth Part 3: Christ Our Healer (Is 53.1-6)

We’ve been talking about heaven on earth.  How when the King of heaven comes to live IN our hearts, we can experience the reality of heaven right here, right now.  The Kingdom of heaven in us - and showing out thru us - every day. Lighthouses of living hope. Because Jesus Christ, risen from the grave and living in us is the hope of glory.  Through Him we’re reborn to a hope that is real and lasting - and it’s backed by heavenly Holy Spirit transformation.  Metamorphosis.  Epiphany.  Thru the resurrection power of Jesus.

Now sometimes heaven on earth sounds too good to be true.  Christ is our Savior/Sanctifier, but Heaven is a distant dream. Right now, life is a fog of brokenness.  The bed of roses is full of thorns.  Surely the thorns of life are never so close that Jesus is not closer still.  He wore a crown of thorns, lugged that cross up Calvary’s hill - for you.  And you know what else He carried? [Is. 53:3-5  …a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief… Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried… and by His stripes we are healed.]  As He climbed up that hill and onto that cross, forsaken by friends AND family, He carried our sorrows.  He bore our sins, yes, but He also bore our griefs.  And by His scourging, by His stripes, we are healed.  Christ is our Healer.

Broken hearts.  Old hurts.  Relationships.  But the Hebrew literally says, He lifted our sicknesses.  He carried our pains.  Some versions prefer to choose words that sound less physical.  Why do they do that?  Does Jesus only come to help us with sin and sadness?  What about physical healing?  Does Jesus do the supernatural today?  Miracles.  Signs and wonders.  The world normally defaults to natural solutions.  “Scientific explanations”.  But even some Christians insist that miracles have ceased.  That once the Scriptures were complete, God pretty much stopped doing wonders.  Really? [Got a hold of a copy of the book, Heavenly Man, and read first-hand accounts of what God is doing today...]  What do you think?  Is a wonderful impossible no longer possible?  Is “super-natural” some overhyped oxymoron?  A thing of the past?

It’s possible that the NAS/ESV translators who changed the Hebrew to sound less supernatural perhaps were concerned about endorsing the [excesses].  The name-it-claim-it folks.  The ones who say, if you have enough faith, God is guaranteed to make you healthy AND wealthy. Mark 9:23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.”  The LIE says, if YOU have ENOUGH faith God WILL do a miracle for you.  The danger is that we turn faith into a [work]. Mark 10:27 Looking at them, Jesus *said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” 

Faith.  All things ARE possible.  But not everyone gets a miracle.  Hebrews chapter 11, [heroes of the faith].  Some saw great miracles.  And some never saw a miracle, never even saw God’s promises fulfilled [Heb 11.36-38 Others experienced mockings and scourgings, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.].  Sometimes the journey of faith involves loss.  Loss of health or freedom, or possessions.  In fact the journey of faith begins with loss: Matt. 16:25 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  Look at Paul - in prison.  Stephen, so many others - executed.  Even Jesus - more faith than anyone. In the garden, asking His Father IF a miracle is possible: Matt. 26:39 He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, IF it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Did He get a miracle?  Maybe not the one He was hoping for: Luke 22:43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.  As those who trust in Christ we do look to a guaranteed future reward [Heb. 11:25-26 By faith Moses…chose rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.].  But Jesus never doubted what God could do today: Matt. 26:53 “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”  Just because we don’t SEE a miracle doesn’t mean that God can’t do one.  Nor does it even mean we don’t get one.

What is it that demonstrates our faith?  Asking.  Asking is the primary means by which the supernatural shows up in our world.  Have you ever noticed the language Jesus uses in connection with prayer?  Matt. 21:22 “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”  Limitless!  Never underestimate the power of prayer.  James 4:2 You do not have because you do not ask.  And never underestimate the importance of corporate prayer.  Matt. 18:19  “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.”  

And as we ask, whatever we see, miracle or no, we thank the Lord.  Thanking Him reinforces faith.  And it brings Him in to our situation.  Cuz life is full of challenges to faith.  Joy stealers. [James 1:2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials. 1Thess 5.16-18 Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.]  But joy and grateful prayer go together.  Never underestimate the power of gratitude, nor the miracle of the joy that God gives, even in trials.  God, this hurts, this is hard, but I thank You - You are in control, You know what You are doing, and You are going to work this for good [Rom. 8:28  God works all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.].  Lord, I may not know Your purpose here, but I trust You.  THIS kind of prayer and heart gratitude brings heaven down to earth, pours it out into and through my life.  Couldn't we say that even the promise of God's presence with us in the midst of trials is in fact a miracle? [Psa. 34:18  The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.]  Truth be told, heroic faith isn’t about miracles - it’s about trusting in the God of the impossible even/especially when that feels impossible..  When it’s hard to even see Him.  Trusting that He IS able.

Some came to Jesus looking for a miracle. What’s in it for me? Some came looking for signs. The sad testimony of Jesus’ hometown is they saw NO miracles because of their unbelief.  They are marked out forever because of what they believed Jesus could NOT do.  The LIE says, God can’t do that. God forbid that we should be ones who are marked by what we think the Lord cannot (or will not) do.

And the world is DYING for a glimpse.  Those around us, those who are standing away from the Lord, they desperately need a glimpse of what God CAN do.  What the world probably doesn’t need to see is how grateful I can be when life IS that bed of roses.  Anyone can be happy in seasons of plenty.  OF course a miracle might get their attention.  But absent that, it’s the hard things, seasons of trials, when life deals us a curveball and God gives endurance and His people keep on trusting Him - these are the times when grateful faith gets to shine.  [Matt. 5:14  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”]

Can God heal today?  Can He do miracles today?  Does He?  Here at HF, the Alliance, we believe God still does work miracles.  We won’t make that the focus, but we believe in asking God to do the supernatural.  Again, [James 4:2b You do not have because you do not ask.][James 5:14,16  Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord…pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.].  Prayer for healing is commanded in the New Testament.  And today stories abound of [supernatural] things that God is still doing.  We DO aspire to be a Christ-centered Acts 1.8 family.  You WILL receive power, Jesus said.  But it’s His power.  He does the work.  And ultimately, the point of talking about Christ our Healer is to point people to Christ.  Miracles always point to the God Who works miracles.  And He has chosen to build His kingdom and show off His greatness in and thru the hearts and lives of those who trust in Him, for better OR worse.  THAT is Heaven on earth.  Will we trust Him today?  Will you?

At age 19, Yassir Eric, living in Sudan, was a radicalized Muslim. He had memorized much of the Quran and was militant in his hatred of Christians—indeed, of anything that was not in conformity to the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood.

But then Yassir met a missionary at a hospital where Yassir was visiting his sick uncle in Sudan. The missionary had come to pray for a sick child. Yassir asked him why he had bothered to come since the child had little chance of living. Yassir was puzzled. Misled by extremist propaganda, he didn’t think Christians prayed or even believed in God. He watched as the missionary prayed and then to his astonishment, observed the young boy open his eyes and move his hands as life reappeared.

“In that day, the Lord opened my eyes,” Yassir recalled.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

PILLARS 15 - Heaven on Earth Part 2: Epiphany (2Corinthians 3.13-18)

We’re looking at Heaven, not the physical place per se as much as the eternal relationship with God, Who made everything, and created us, all people, in His image, to enjoy a personal relationship with Him, to enjoy Him, forever.  That is heaven.  Knowing Christ - Better than anything else on earth.  HE is the Destination.  He is the There AND the Way to get there.  Christ is our Savior - He saves us, rescues us from the death penalty of sin, His death the only way to get to heaven.  It’s a gift we receive by faith.  Nothing we can do to earn it - and nothing we can do to lose of it.  This (Christ Our Savior) is the first of the 4 pillars which are the distinct emphases of the CMA - and pretty much every evangelical Christian church believes this.  All other religions believe you need to work your way to paradise - sadly so do some supposedly Christian churches: you work your way to heaven, and you’ve got to work to stay there [Phil 2.12-13]. [Rom 8.30?]

Christ is also our [Sanctifier]. To sanctify means to make holy.  Christ comes to earth and literally comes into our lives to make us more like Him.  We talked about how the presence of God turns any place into paradise, makes it sacred.  When the Lord comes to dwell in my heart, any where can be heaven on earth [1Cor 6.19].  My life becomes a sacred outpost of heaven.  We talked about this: the Kingdom of heaven is IN you.  AND the Kingdom comes out - the values of heaven, the business of heaven…

[Gal 2.20] is both motivational [a la "I am with you always"], AND transformational.  Consider: when Christ came to earth physically, it inspired a holiday called [Epiphany].  A revealing.  January 6, it’s the conclusion to the 12 days of [Christmas].  Epiphany.  It’s a festival - aka Three King’s Day - when the Christ was revealed to all the Gentiles as represented by the kings/wise men who sought Him out in Bethlehem.  Epiphany.  But epiphany can also be any revealing or manifestation of a divine being.  Heaven come down to earth.  We do find this in the birth of Jesus Christ, God the Son.  But isn’t this mind-blowing notion of the infinite almighty God showing up in our finite fallen broken world, isn’t this notion the crux of what it means to be a Christian?  Christ lives in me.  It’s not just a creed.  This is for real [2Cor 5:17, 3:18 - metamorphosis, a la the transformation of a lowly caterpillar into a glorious butterfly].  Every person who trusts in Christ enters into a real lifelong process of being transformed more and more into the image of Christ.  Not just one day in heaven, but every day.  A gooey messy chrysalis of heaven, here on earth, today.  And tomorrow.  And the next day.  We are re-created to be an epiphany, a revealing of the divine supernatural Christ.  Christ in me = heaven on earth. [PBPGINFWMY]

Christianity is not just “fire insurance”.  [get-out-of-the-lake-of-fire free card].  Yes, Christ is our Savior, He saves us fully and forever from the penalty of sin, of separation from God and His goodness for all eternity - but in Christ we’re also completely new creations.  His Spirit comes into our lives and ignites a total home makeover.  He begins this good work of metamorphosis [Phil. 1:6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.].  It is a lifelong, exceedingly good work, gradually revealing, day by day, Jesus Christ through us.  Epiphany.  This isn’t just a makeover - it’s a takeover, an invasion of the heavenly kind.  Paradise invades and begins to take over my life.  My desires.  My words.  My actions.  It’s the Kingdom of heaven, showing out in a life near you.  Heaven/Jesus begins to come oozing out of every single pore and orifice and fiber of my being - or He should.  But He doesn’t always - and that’s the million dollar question before us today: why not? [Not all have trusted…][cf Rom 7:21-24]

Epiphany also means revelation, as in a sudden insight?  What needs to take place in the life of a believer is this revelation, this light needs to go on in our brains telling us that the same way we gain access to heaven is the same way we progress towards heaven on earth.  The way we come to know Jesus is the same way we become more like Him. [Gal 3.1-3 - the Galatians needed this epiphany].  This is good ol' fashioned Faith [cf Heb 12.1].  Trusting in Christ, fixing our eyes on Jesus - and HE does the work [Jn 7.37-38].  Jesus does the heavy lifting.  He did the heavy lifting on the cross (it is finished!), and now every day He does the heavy lifting in our lives as He lives inside us through His Spirit.  Our job is to let Jesus do His job.  To keep in step with His Spirit [Gal 5.16].  And our struggle begins when(ever) we begin to take our eyes OFF of Jesus.

[Rom 12.1-2]  Present your bodies.  This is an altar, and whatever is on the [altar] is dedicated/given over to God.  Fully.  [it is the aorist tense, meaning a point in time].  We come to the point where we fully surrender to Christ.  That means all of us.  We put our whole selves in [we do the hokey pokey].  We surrender all TO Him, cuz of all He’s done FOR us.  We are a living sacrifice.  Of course a living sacrifice can crawl off the altar.  Surrender is not easy.  Cuz now Christ gets the remote.  It’s no longer, I do whatever I want.  I do this on my own.  I got this.  I can figure this out.  I know what to do, and I can do it.  No, no I don’t.  No I can’t.  Many of life’s best (but hard) lessons are God graciously revealing to us that apart from Christ, there’s nothing we can do [Jn 15.5].  The problem with having a little strength?  I think I can pull it off.  The little engine who could.  I think I can, I think I can.  The LIE says, do more, try harder.  And as long as we think we have even the least little bit of strength, we’re tempted to try and do it ourselves.  When the truth is, we’re talking about doing the supernatural.  Epiphany.  Heaven revealed thru me.  Loving the Lord with all our heart.  Loving strangers, our enemies.  Be holy as I am holy.  We don’t have the super spiritual strength required to pull off any of that.  It's humanly impossible - and that’s precisely the point.  We don’t have the strength to pull off the least little bit of this.  Not on our own.  Ours is the lesson of learning that we don’t even have a little bit of strength.

[Jn 16.5-7] Jesus is leaving, their Heavenly Roommate is moving out and the disciples are thinking they are going to be on their own.  And what He is saying is, you are never alone.  We’re never on our own.  Our job is not to try and figure this all out and follow as best we can.  We know the One Who has all the power in the universe - AND, bonus - He lives in the heart of every person who trusts in Jesus.  Have you trusted in Jesus?  Then He lives in your heart.  And so the rest of this becomes no sweat - literally no sweat whatsoever on my part, cuz my part is simply to trust.  To surrender.  Let Jesus do His thing.

Do not be conformed, but be transformed.  Not being conformed means, don’t be just like the world.  And that’s not easy - cuz we want to fit in.  We want to be liked - and the world they don’t like those who are different.  They don’t like those who disagree with them.  There are things the world does, things the world says, things the world believes, things the world values and wants - often those do not line up with what God wants.  With what is well-pleasing to Him.  And so not being conformed means learning to say no - to the world.  We love our neighbors, we bless them, but we don’t value or do and say everything they do.  Sometimes we gotta say no.  And sometimes, like with polyps that can turn cancerous - we gotta cut them out!  Hopefully we can find those ways to fruitfully engaged in the world but conformed to it.  And God gives us His Spirit to help us do that.

Again, epiphany, being transformed is metamorphosis.  Caterpillar to butterfly.  This of course is a supernatural spiritual process, a miracle, a wonderful impossible - a work which only God can do.  But He’s good for it [Phil 1.6].  Our part begins with this surrender - and it continues with the renewing of our mind.  How do we do that?  How do our hearts and minds and then our choices and our lives begin to reflect and show off what God wants?  Regular, daily looking in that mirror of God's glory…  Every day, constantly, in His Word [Col 3.16].  And every day, every moment, being filled [Eph 5:18, Gal 5:22].  The fruit of heaven shows up and shows out in ME - not by me trying harder, but as I trust in Jesus.  Lord, be merciful to me, and please help me…

Rev 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.

Luke 17:20   Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

2Cor. 13:5   Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test?

John 14:17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

Rom. 8:9   However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Col. 1:27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

1John 4:4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

Rom. 12:1-2   Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to the image of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Rom. 8:13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 

2Cor. 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 

Gal. 3:1-3   You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

John 16:5-7   “But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”

2Cor. 5:17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

Gal. 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

2Cor. 4:16   Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

Col. 1:27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Gal. 4:19 My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you 

John 7:38-39 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”  But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Gal. 5:16   But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

1Cor. 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

PILLARS 14 - Heaven on Earth Part 1: Kingdom of heaven (Mt 6.9-13)

Your kingdom come.  The Kingdom of heaven.  Last time we looked at heaven.  How the presence of God can turn any place into paradise.  How heaven is not just about a specific place or destination but more about an eternal relationship with the God of heaven, the God Who made the universe and made you and me to enjoy a personal relationship with Him.  Forever.  That begins when we decide to trust in Jesus’ death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  It can begin today in fact!  But to that point Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven being within us [Lk 17.21].  For sure, there will be a physical kingdom of heaven one day when Christ comes back to rule as King over all the earth, but the King of kings would reign in each of our hearts TODAY.  Your kingdom come.

We see this in the Lord’s Prayer - let Your KINGdom come, let what You want be done.  Reign in me - today.  Everyday.  Yes, there is a future component to this, but this entire prayer is tied to today.  Daily bread - today.  Forgiveness - today.  No temptation, deliverance from evil - this day.  We’re not putting any of these things off till eternity.  They play out in our lives each and every day.  Your will be done (literally, let what You want come to be).  When is that supposed to happen?  Someday, yes, but also today.  Let Your kingdom come.  Someday yes, but also today - and it begins in my heart.  The kingdom of heaven.  It’s about me and you cultivating our supreme loyalty to King Jesus.  This day.  Surrender.  Reverence.  Devotion.  Today.  And tomorrow.  What He wants.  He is King.  The kingdom of heaven is within you - that’s where it begins today.  Heaven on earth.

The kingdom of heaven. [Phil 3.20][2Cor 5.20]  As citizens of God’s kingdom, our loyalty to His kingdom, to THIS King, supersedes all others.  We represent the values and promote the interests of the kingdom wherever we live on earth.  It’s what the angel said to Joshua outside Jericho [Josh 5.13-15].  God’s not taking sides, He’s taking over.  On a human level, we instinctively roll like it’s us vs. them.  The enemy.  We’re so quick to take sides.  To form up ranks and oppose and separate from our fellow man.  People who look different.  Talk different.  Believe different.  Who vote different.  People who aren’t from around here - strangers (xenoi).  We let our differences divide and distance us from our fellow man, from our would-be neighbors.  We do this as children.  Instinctively.  We make fun of the person who is different.  We shun the new kid.  The stranger. (and not totally without cause, kids).  But sometimes we get it in our heads that the person standing opposite me is my enemy.  Somehow they’re a threat to me, to my family, to the life I aspire to enjoy on this earth.

This shows up at the Olympics, doesn't it?  That normal nationalistic pride.  We root against the strangers, don’t we?  Ethnic pride.  Ethnocentrism.  It’s as old as the Tower of Babel.  Whether there's only one culture like at Babel [and we say, WE are great!], or many cultures [where we say, WE are greater (i.e. than them)!].  The LIE says, different is bad.  Our flesh is so easily prone to look down on those who are different.  If we have even a bit of power we see them as inferior.  Racism - America has no monopoly on this.  It rears its ugly head in every culture on earth.  And our flesh can have a natural distrust of strangers.  Xenophobia.   Fear of strangers.  We have this in good ol’ East Texas, land that I love.  Most folks in these parts live a certain way, talk a certain way, have certain values.  If you’re not from round here, it can be hard to break in, hard to fit in, can’t it?  Many here at HF know what I’m talking about…

In Mt 24, Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven.  The fig tree [24.32] - when you see the leaves coming out, you know summer is near.  I.e. He's telling us that there will be obvious signs when Christ is about to return as King.  He adds that no one will know the exact time [24.36] - so we need to be ready, on the alert - AND we need to be about the business of the kingdom [24.37-38].  UNLIKE the people in the days of Noah, who were NOT ready.  They were so caught up in living this life - eating & drinking and marrying - that they missed the boat.  Literally.  And I wonder if many in the US aren’t in danger of missing the boat.  The Kingdom of heaven - and its business - takes precedence.  We can be concerned about preserving our lifestyle.  We do enjoy such wonderful unprecedented liberty and peace and prosperity in our land.  And strangers have a way of changing the status quo.  Can’t relate to em.  Can ya trust em?  Jesus is reminding us that His Kingdom, The kingdom of heaven, trumps all earthly priorities.  

So Jesus relates the parable of the ten virgins.  They are given one main objective - be ready for when the Bridegroom comes.  And half of them weren’t ready when He came.  They didn’t prioritize the kingdom.  Next Jesus tells the parable of the talents.  The Master entrusts His resources to His servants, and they are engage in business of the Master’s kingdom until He returns.  Two of His servants do that, but one does absolutely nothing with what the Master gave him.  And when the Master returns, what does He call this third slave who did nothing with the Master’s resources [25.26,30]?  Wicked.  Lazy.  Worthless.  Really harsh words from the God of grace.  But the utter lack of engagement in the Master’s business is evidence that the one who is by all appearances a servant of the Master, in fact is not.  Which brings us to the last half of Mt 25 [31-37, 46].  Some of the most sobering verses in the entire NT.

The kingdom of heaven, which takes up residence in the hearts of its citizens, comes oozing out in the form of kingdom priorities.  It manifests in the form of supreme loyalty to the King.  To His kingdom.  And it reflects the supreme values of the kingdom: not the least of which is: compassion.  Compassion towards those in need.  Those who are hungry.  Thirsty.  Naked.  Sick.  And strangers.  Vulnerable.  They need help.  Strangers are far from home.  Possibly dealing with loss of home, job, etc.  As much as anything strangers are deprived of community.  And community - specifically the community of God - is God’s intended vehicle for dispersing His blessings [Gen 12.2-3].  When I was a stranger, Jesus says, when strangers showed up at your community, you invited them in.  Literally, you synagogued with them.  The synagogue WAS the community.  And it’s a verb.  You synagogue, you gather together with your community.  And in this case, the community welcomed strangers.  You didn’t necessarily require that they convert.  But you extended God’s blessings to them.  You were a good neighbor to them, you showed them compassion.  Like the Good Samaritan.  The guy in the ditch was a stranger.  [Maybe an Enemy?  A danger?]  But the Good Samaritan made space in his life to help that person cuz he had already made space in his heart for the King —> Kingdom of heaven.

This happens to be the business of the Kingdom.  You will bless the nations.  The business of the kingdom is to extend the blessings of God to strangers.  Spreading to all peoples the knowledge that there is a breathtakingly good God Who made us to enjoy His goodness forever.  And the only way to do that is through a personal relationship with that promised Seed of Abraham [Gen 22.18].  Blessing strangers, introducing them to the Kingdom of heaven.  To the King Himself.  Jesus.  There are billions and billions of people around the world who are separated from the God Who loves them.  Walking in darkness.  Some 1.5B Muslims.  ~30M in a [terror-ridden] land called Afghanistan.  It has become highly problematic for outsiders to go in now.  But guess what God our Savior has done?  He has arranged it so that 55k of these Afghans had to leave everything and come to the land of the infidel.  God says, here you go.  It's the Heart of King of heaven which drew so many strangers to seek a more blessed life in the so-called Nation-under-God [Lady Liberty]  May that same King of heaven give us grace and a heart to see these and all our neighbors with His eyes, with compassion… The sacrifices will be worth it.  If it costs us our lives it will be worth it - cuz our King, Jesus, He is worth it.

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Gen. 12:2  "And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; 3  And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who 1curses you I will curse. 

And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Genesis 22:18 “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

Philippians 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;

2Corinthians 5:20   Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

PILLARS 13 - Heaven [Revelation 21.1-4]

God provided a way for people to be restored to an eternal relationship with Him by sending Jesus Christ to die on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for sin.  For all who repent and trust in Jesus' death on their behalf, God forgives all their sins and declares them to be right in His eyes.  He gives these Christ-followers the gift of eternal life, seals them with His Holy Spirit, and adopts them into His family.

Today we’re talking about heaven.  What it is, and how to get there.

We are wired for heaven, aren’t we?  For paradise.  We search for it all of our lives.  Chase after it.  You maybe can't explain it, but you feel it.  You've felt it your entire life, you know it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, that there’s something missing in the world.  A dreamy mirage.  A time out of time.  Paradise.  That ancient garden.  And we spend our entire lives trying to get back there, to the garden.  Catch a glimpse of it.  Or some earthly iteration of it.  These are the places, the moments that cause us to say, ah!  Not like at the doctor’s office [tongue depressor].  Ah with an extra H!  Yes, these are the moments that dreams are made of.  Dreaming of the beach [sunny Cyprus].  Of that idyllic mountain lake.  Of that beautiful garden with a comfy chair and a tall cold or hot beverage.  Sit back, kick your feet up, and drink it in.  Ahhhh.  Trying to find just that little bit of heaven.  That fleeting bit of respite, a momentary interlude of rest and quiet, that place of perfect peace.  OR transcendent joy.  Maybe it’s finding that special someone?  These are the moments when you want to hit the pause button, and go timeless.  We live for these moments, we long for these glimpses of heaven, trying to get back to paradise.  

Sadly, all these glimpses are just that.  Fleeting at best.  Nothing in this world ever fully satisfies.  I’m with CS Lewis - “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  We WERE made for another world - or at least a different version of this one.  

But so, what IS heaven?  IS it a place? Can we locate on a map?  With our gps?  Is it in the clouds or the stars somewhere?  2nd star to the right and straight on till morning?  Is it just some fictional neverland?  We do believe at one point there WAS a garden [tho we’re not sure of it’s exact location].  At one point there IS (or will be) a city.  The Bible does describe a huge celestial city, with indescribable dwellings and streets of gold [Rev 21.9-21][The measurement of 12k stadia = 1363 miles --> that's Dallas to LA or Winnipeg].  But the distinguishing feature of that heavenly city isn’t where it is, or what is there - it’s Who is there [Rev 21.22-23].  That’s what makes it heaven.  The presence of God turns any place into paradise [note these other sacred places: the burning bush Ex 3.4-5; the transfiguration - Mt 17.1-4; Rev 21.3].  Heaven can literally be anywhere - as long as the Lord is there - AND we have the eyes, the heart to see Him.  To trust Him. [How about Moses up on Sinai IN GOD'S PRESENCE with no food or water for 40 days...?  He had all he needed/wanted...]

Of course, our longing and searching for paradise/heaven shows us not only that we were designed for it but also that we are not there.  What happened?  We’ve discussed how God created man in His image, for a personal relationship with Him, and how man just thumbed his nose at God.  Man chose to reject God.  We decided to cast God and what He wanted OUT of our lives, and we got exactly what we wanted.  We got cast out of God’s paradise.  And the significant part of that casting out was the death.  We died.  Our bodies began to die - all manner of brokenness invaded our world - AND our spirits died in that moment.  We became separated from God.  Paradise lost.  This death and separation then passed down to all people.  We all emerge from the womb tragically separated from God.  We’re born with the curse of sin flowing in our spiritual veins.  We choose from the get go to go our own way, to live into what we want instead of what God wants.  This is the textbook definition of sin - and we’re all guilty [Rom 3.23, Rom 6.23].  Which means that paradise, God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, is at an insurmountable distance from each one of us [without some outside intervention].

Cuz how DO we get there?  How do we truly and fully get back to the garden, to heaven?  Is there some “Stairway to heaven"? There are different ideas as to what that song is really saying.  But there is one line that is repeated, three times: She’s buying a stairway to heaven… No she isn’t.  We think money —> heaven.  Or money = heaven.  No it isn’t.  All the things we think money can buy: it can buy stuff.  A whole lotta stuff.  A whole lot of [cotton candy].  And all those moments of respite and sipping that drink are fleeting at best.  Temporal.  All too temporary.  A lot of good looking stuff that leaves us still feeling empty.  So much fluff.  Sometimes we think we find heaven in another person - but they’re just as broken and empty as we are.  No finite created thing can provide true lasting happiness and contentment.  Much less heaven.  When the God of heaven is missing from our hearts it leaves a God-shaped hole that only He can fill [and it’s a BIG hole, Pascal calls it an infinite abyss - and no amount of stuff or money can ever hope to fill it.  John Rockefeller when asked how much money was enough, famously replied, "$1 more".  Money can't hope to fill the hole, much less NOT buy eternal life.  You can’t take any of it with you.  Not even one measly penny.  The LIE says, I earn my way into heaven.  No, I don’t.  NO amount of money, no good work will ever make me good and clean enough to enter God’s perfect holy presence - this is a rescue which I cannot ever effect. [Eph 2:8-9]  Heaven is a gift - there is nothing I could ever do to buy my way in, or otherwise earn access.  [Rev 21.6]

BUT because heaven is about a Who, an eternal relationship with that Who, it means that heaven is not strictly confined to some future distant celestial city.  Heaven CAN be found in the here and now, in my heart.  The kingdom of heaven is IN you, Jesus said (Lk 17.21).

We were made for this.  We were made for this.  That’s exactly what we say in those times and in those places when we’re experiencing some kind of heaven on earth, isn’t it?  I was made for this.  And that’s the point.  That’s the truth we’ve been considering for the past several weeks.  There IS a God Who made all things, and He made us, all people, IN HIS IMAGE.  Wired for personal relationship, one which begins and ends with a personal relationship with Him.  To know Him.  That’s what Paul tells us in Philippians 3:8-11 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ…that I may know Him  Paul knows, THAT is heaven.  THAT'S the very best thing in the universe, and nothing comes close [Philippians 1:23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.].  Knowing Christ - THAT is heaven [John 17:3 “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”].  That is the miracle, the wonderfully impossible and indescribable promise of Emmanuel.  God with us.  I am with you, always, He says.  Heaven - the God of Heaven - comes to camp out, to make His home in our hearts.  Truly, heaven on earth.  In my heart.  Always.  Everywhere.  And Jesus is the way.  He is both the There AND the Way to get there.  The LIE says, there are many ways to God.  No.  No, there aren’t.  Only one Person ever lived who was sinless, innocent enough to pay my sin penalty and yours (that’s what He was doing on that cross) [Jn 14.6].  And only one Person ever lived Who rose from the dead to prove the truth of His claim.  Every other religion, every other purported path depends on works.  Me working my way to heaven (or whatever alternative spiritual goal I’ve concocted).  That's the difference between religion and Christianity.  Religion - any religion - is me trusting in MY efforts, MY work.  Christianity is me trusting in Christ's work.  And the City of Heaven is the people who have said, “I do” to Christ in their hearts.

Heaven - we were made for this.  But we were also undone for this.  Paradise is lost.  We lost it.  We were kicked out, driven out when we drove God out of our lives.  When we chose to put something else in God’s place.  And we’ve all done it.  But God made a way back.  A way to know Him.  A way to be right with Him (Romans 3:24 …being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus - i.e. in His eyes I’ve done everything right).  That’s what it means to be forgiven.  Do you know Jesus yet?  Have you said “I do” to Him yet?  He is knocking at your door…