Tag Archives: kingdom living

Kingdom Living, Part 1

“And he said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent.”  Luke 4:43 (KJV)

What does it mean to be a citizen?  A citizen is defined as “a native or naturalized individual who owes allegiance to a government (as of a state or nation) and is entitled to the enjoyment of governmental protection and to the exercise of civil rights.”  Our news lately has been full of cover stories on how America is changing the definition of citizenship and who is eligible to become a citizen of this country.  BUT GOD, never changes the definition or the privilege of citizenship in His Kingdom—a kingdom that is eternal and everlasting yet fully realized today.

When God the Son stepped out of eternity into time, He ushered in the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15).  The “kingdom of God” is manifested in two ways. By the sovereign control and:  (1) future reign of Jesus Christ as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15) AND (2) present reign of Jesus Christ in the heart of believers as we become “transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).  It is this latter understanding of the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of when He taught His disciples to pray, “thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10).  What does kingdom living look like in our daily “profession of faith”?  As believers in the twenty-first century, what is our role in bringing the kingdom of God into existence? 

We are citizens of His kingdom.    “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).  When we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, Father God  “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13, 14).  When that occurred, our allegiance and loyalties changed.  Death no longer has dominion over us (Rom. 6:9); sin no longer reigns in our bodies (Rom. 6:12).   Our Sovereign is Christ and we live under the “Banner of the Cross.” 

We are stewards of His kingdom.   “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2)   God has entrusted us with both spiritual (gifts and talents) and physical resources (blessings) to accomplish His purpose through our lives.  We are to continually examine how well we are managing those resources.  Unlike the foolish servant who failed to “invest” his resources on behalf of his master’s kingdom, we are to be both fruitful and faithful (Matt. 25:21).

We are ambassadors for His kingdom.   “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).    An ambassador functions as a representative of a ruling authority.  We, then, are representatives of Christ and serve Him by doing the work specifically delegated to us by Christ (Ep. 2:10).  We do this through our personal testimonies and by inviting others to join us as citizens of the kingdom of God.     

As believers in Christ, it is critical that we understand that we are part of God’s kingdom—individually as believers and collectively as the Church of Christ.   He is our King.  As heirs and citizens of the kingdom of God, our purpose is to do our part in the furtherance of His kingdom.  This goes beyond “walking the talk”; it is a matter of “walking by faith” (Rom. 1:16, 17).  The kingdom of God is brought to fruition by our love for and our loyalty to our King.  “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17).

Also Read:  Kingdom Living, Part 2

SELAH:    In Acts 17:16-34, Paul eloquently explains to the philosophers and truth-seekers of that day the source of truth and life.  In verse 28, He describes God as the source “in who we live and move and have our meaning.”  For me this is a great reminder of my citizenship in the kingdom of God.

Journal what it means to you to be a citizen of God’s Kingdom.  Use one of the scriptures included in today’s teaching or one from your Bible concordance.

The Great Access: Practicing the Presence of God

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” Psalm 139:7 (NKJ)

“For through Him (Jesus) we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2:18

With the explosion of social media, one of the greatest assistances has been the development of technology that facilitates networking and contact with people who, under normal circumstances, would be inaccessible.   Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, have made it possible for individuals to make connections with people anywhere in the world who might assist individuals with their personal and business aspirations.  These are the benefits of the technology age.  However, one of the most phenomenal opportunities is not the result of the technology age we live in but the “grace age” Jesus provided believers via “supernatural entrée” to the Creator of the Universe.  This access can be realized through practicing the presence of God.

God is “everywhere present” (Ps. 139ff) and we live our life daily “in His presence.”  Although sin once separated us from God, our position in Christ (Rom. 5:1-2) re-established our direct access to Him. This access does not require that we travel to the temple in Jerusalem as was once the tradition of the Jews prior to Christ’s first advent (Deut. 16:16) nor can entrée to God only be found in the modern church sanctuary.  We live continually in the presence of God with potential for ongoing fellowship with Him anywhere and anytime.

Fellowshipping reminds us that God is “relational” (versus religion) and desires time with His children—those whom He loves and sent His Son to die for (John 3:16).   These are the blessings of those in Christ, which even the angels in heaven covet (1 Pet. 1:11-12).  Believers have the extraordinary opportunity to spend time with God not “doing”—presenting petitions or offering prayers of intersession but simply “being” with Him.   Practicing the presence of God is the intentional discipline whereby we pause during the busyness of our life and abide with God.

What exactly is meant by the phrase, “practicing the presence of God”?  In pursuit of an answer to that question, I found the best definitions from two renowned practitioners of this spiritual habit.  Following are their responses for your consideration.

“…to acknowledge the Presence of God who is really there is actually a form of prayer, a way of praying always as the Scriptures exhort us to do.  When we do this, the eyes and ears of our hearts are open to receive the word He is always speaking.  We enter into a path of obedience perhaps unknown to us before where we joyfully acknowledge, ‘Jesus is Lord.’

Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence

“…continual conversation with Him, with freedom and in simplicity.  That we need only to recognize God intimately present with us, to address ourselves to Him every moment, that we may beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful, and for rightly performing those which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him before we do them, and giving Him thanks when we have done.”

Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God

Practicing the presence of God is built on several foundational truths about God and His relationship with believers.

  • God lives within us. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16.  Before returning to His Father, Jesus promised to send “another Comforter” that would abide with them forever (John 14:16).  That Comforter was the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.  He guides believers in all truth—truth that He hears from the Father (John 16:13).
  • God desires to communicate with us.  “Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him.” Genesis 35:13.  God is not some distant deity disinterested in His children’s daily affairs.  We cry “Abba Father” (Gal. 4:6) knowing He hears our every word; in response we are to listen intently as He directs us:  “this is the way walk in it” (Isa. 30:21).  Communication between the Father and His children result in unity of thought and agreement in purpose.
  • God wishes to be in relationship with us. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8a.  It has always been God’s desire to be in unbroken fellowship with man.  By instituting His plan of salvation, He created the means by which that which was lost in the Garden of Eden could be restored.  Now reconciled to God (Col. 1:20-21), man is once again free to fellowship with his Creator.

Jesus Christ was the greatest practitioner of living in the presence of God.  Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus synchronized His every move based on what He heard from His Father (John 5:30).  Living in continual communion with God, Jesus modeled the power of practicing the presence.

With these definitions and truths in hand, the spiritual reality of practicing the presence of God releases His fullness into the believer’s life.  There is peace, joy and love in abundance.   In unhindered communion with God, believers are able to live life more victoriously.

As Advent 2016 closes and 2017 begins be intentional in practicing the presence of God.  Live moment to moment in awareness and acknowledgement of God’s presence.  Awareness of God’s presence means that in our heart, we proclaim Christ is Lord.  In Him “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).   Acknowledgement of God’s presence means that we live our life attentively listening to His voice.  We live in unbroken communication with Him—“He in us and we in Him” (John 17:23).

Good to the Last Byte…

Want to learn more about practicing the presence of God?  Kevin Martinez of Christian Living and More offers six (6) ways to practice the presence of God throughout your day.  Click here to begin.

The God of Possible

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible,

but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”  Mark 10:27 (NKJ)

When facing the challenges of life, the first question that comes to mind is whether we are able to handle them.  This response is based on our ability or power to alter or control the circumstance.   Either we have it or we don’t.  Those things we feel unable to master we describe as impossible.   As we continue our series, “In God We Trust”, it good to know that we serve the God of Possible.

The Greek rendering of the word “impossible” is adynatosThis word indicates that, a person or thing lacks the ability to do a specific action.  In our text today, this word is used as an adjective and means “powerless or impotent.”  However, what is impossible for unaided human beings is “possible” or dynatos with God.  God is more than able—excelling in power.

The Old Testament is replete with passages that illustrate human limitations.  Many times Israel called upon Jehovah to intervene on their behalf.  It was Jehovah Jireh (The Lord who provides) they called upon in time of need (Gen. 22:14).  After successfully crossing the Red Sea it was Jehovah Ripah (The Lord who heals) they promised to faithfully follow (Ex. 15:26).  In the time of battle, Israel lifted their voices to Jehovah Nissi (The Lord who is our banner) as their source for victory (Ex. 17:15).  Every name given to God in the Old Testament revealed His unalterable power and ability to handle every circumstance Israel faced.  From Genesis to Malachi, God proves Himself to be the God of possible.

The New Testament carries over this Old Testament view of human inability contrasted with God who is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask and think” (Eph. 3:20). Because of his inherent nature, God is able to help those who come to Him (Heb. 2:18), to save completely those who trust in Jesus (Heb. 7:25; Jude 24) and in short, to make every grace abound toward us (2 Cor. 9:8).    Man, though created in the image of God, apart from God is impotent—able “to do nothing” (John 15:5).

In an age where self-sufficiency is valued, it’s common to minimize God’s ability to do the impossible.  This belief may be held by those who feel there is no one who can understand their unique situation or problem.  They may feel embarrassed or even ashamed.  God’s love invites them to “cast their burden on Him because He cares for them” (1 Pet. 5:7).  Perhaps people view their challenges as insurmountable.  To them, The Creator of the universe responds, “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)  Perhaps individuals are burdened by sin—sin they feel is unforgiveable.  For that group, Jesus gladly responds with open arms of acceptance and says, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”   The next time you’re faced with an impossible task, place your trust in God and shift your focus from your inability to the all-powerful, loving God of possible.

 Good to the Last Byte…  

What are the impossible things mentioned in the New Testament? Here’s a brief sampling for your personal study:  Matthew 19:26, Luke 18:27; Acts 14:8; Romans 8:3 and Hebrews 6:4.  It is of course impossible for God to lie, for His nature lacks that capacity (Heb. 6:18).  That should bring us great comfort and assurance in His Word.

The God Who Keeps

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling.” (Jude 24, NKJV)

Economic upheaval and social strife at home.  Civil wars and natural catastrophes aboard.  All these cause us to continually feel anxious, apprehensive, and nervous.  The belief that God keeps us gives comfort and assurance at a time when both (comfort and assurance) are greatly needed.

In the Old Testament the most popular use of keep is nastar and shamar.  Nastar means to guard, protect, or preserve.  We see this in Isaiah 27:3 when God speaks of His protection of Israel, “I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.”   Shamar is similar in meaning—the sense is one of “watching over someone or something.”  It is likened to a hedge strategically placed for protection.  In Number 6, the LORD uses shamar in the priestly blessing for the children of Israel.

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:

The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:

The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

The New Testament continues this thought of protection and preservation with its Greek meaning of keep—tereo.   In John 17:11-12, 15, Jesus prays to the Father to keep those He will leave in the world.

Holy Father, keep (protect) through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.  While I was with them in the world, I kept (protected) them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.  I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep (protect) them from the evil.

God’s also extends His keeping to our emotional and spiritual needs.

You (God) will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.  (Isa. 26:3) 

 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)

God’s promise to keep us in “His reach and watchgives us blessed assurance that cannot be matched.  We can confidently “trust in God” without fear for He has set Himself as our sentinel and watchman.  He is the God who keeps. (2 Tim. 1:12)

Good to the Last Byte…

The aforementioned blessings can be a great source of comfort to those who are experiencing uncertainty in their life.  The next time you are asked to pray for someone, bless them by giving them God’s promise of His keeping.

In God We Trust

            “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.  In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?”  Psalm 56:3, 4 (NKJ)

As Election Day 2016 draws near, I thought it would be appropriate to spend some time reaffirming the true source of our confidence which is in God.  Campaign advertisements continually bombard us via social media, telephone, and television; each candidate promising to serve faithfully and with integrity.  How ironic that our discussion on trust should follow our recent series, “In Search of Truth” as we listen to “half-truths” and “outright lies” presented by all political parties on the ballot.  Who is one to trust?  Our text for today summarizes the best place to put our trust—in God.

The background for today’s Psalm can be found in 1 Samuel 21:8-15, where we are told of David’s escape to Gath, the stronghold of the Philistines, arch enemies of Israel.   The Philistines were well acquainted with David for he had championed the killing of Goliath of Gath when he was only a young shepherd boy (1 Sam. 17).   Since then, he had been anointed by Samuel the prophet as the heir apparent to the throne of Israel receiving praises from the people for his many conquests (1 Sam. 18:7).  However, those praises had resulted in a death wish from King Saul who now sought David’s life.  Now this young man runs for fear of his life to a place of even greater peril and sure death.  He now stands captured by his worst enemy, the king of the Philistines.

Psalm 56 is identified as a song for the distressed.  We would agree that David was in distress.  We sometimes describe it as being “between a rock and a hard place.”   Like David, we sometimes find ourselves wedged between many rocks and brutal hard places.  Sometimes this happens as a result of others, like Saul, and other times it is the result of our own disobedience and waywardness.  In those times of distress and fear, we are to call out like David—“In God, I have put my trust.”

Trust (batach) in Hebrew means “bold and confident”.  The description means to literally “throw oneself down, extended on the ground, upon his face.”  Can you imagine that picture?  David, literally throwing himself on the mercy of God, fully confident and bold; defiantly proclaiming, “What can flesh do to me?”  I wonder if his mind reflected back on God’s mighty hand of deliverance in his earlier battle with fear as he faced Goliath.  Did he recall the many times God intervened on his behalf as King Saul sought to capture and kill him?  His eye was not on the source of his fear but on the Deliverer of his soul. David’s spirit was humbled, cast down in full confidence and trust in Almighty God for his life—not the Philistine king.

As we face the many challenges of life that tend to shake the very foundation of our faith, let us “put our trust” in the One who is able to deliver us from all harm (Ps. 46:2). Remember those times that God stepped in to deliver you and brought you to a point of safety.   Exchange your fear for bold confidence (Ps. 20:7).  Stretch out on “mature” faith, like David, and expect miracles, signs, and wonders.   Although we flippantly have inscribed on our coins, “In God we trust”, it’s now time to write upon our hearts the Psalmist’s words, “I have put my trust in God.”

Prayer:  God of creation and God of salvation, we put our trust in You.  Though the earth may tremble and the mountain be carried into the sea, we put our trust in You.  Though life may be hard and the challenges daunting, we put our trust in You.  We trust in You and You alone because You are OUR GOD.

Dare to be a Truth Teller

“I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings, And will not be ashamed.” (Psalm 119:46, NKJ)

Are you a truth teller?  This might seem like a strange question to ask but it provides a great starting point for personal reflection as we close this month’s series, “In Search of Truth.”  We began the series by asking the question, “Can you handle the truth?”  We defined truth as the meaning and reality of life defined by God versus truth shaped by postmodern thinking.  The believer’s source of truth is presented by God Himself in His Word and through the direction of the “Spirit of Truth”, the Holy Spirit.   Truth defined by God becomes the compass by which believers are able to discern truth from error (1 John 4:6) therefore allowing them to live out their God-ordained purpose (Ep. 2:10).

How well am I doing with being truthful?   Following God’s truth may result in rejection and personal persecution.  Inside the safety of the church walls it’s easy to agree with the ethics and morality inherent in God’s truth.  However, once outside the “physical boundaries” of the church, it is the “heart” which must reflect God’s truth.  It is the heart that directs the mind, will, and emotions (the soul) to sieve the noise of the world through the filter of God’s truth.  Truth and obedience are closely connected as believers must choose between God’s instructions or man’s acceptance (Matt. 10:28).

Does the world want to know the truth?  Or is truth simply a remnant of the 20th century—no longer relevant in today’s fast-paced, high tech world?  Unfortunately, truth is often defined by what’s trending on social media.  To further complicate the search for truth, corporate/community leaders and aspiring politicians create “untruthful” responses to difficult social issues that simply satisfy people who don’t really want to know the truth; so the community and nation are given a lie (instead of truth) to make them feel better.  Unfortunately people would rather believe a lie than the truth—think about that for a minute!  Are people really being deceived or are they simply choosing to believe a lie? It’s easier (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

Am I ready to be a truth teller?  To be a truth teller requires boldness to stand for holy “rightness” (Heb. 13:6) and to proclaim what is God’s truth versus what is politically or socially correct (Luke 12:4-5; Ps. 119:46). When Jesus taught the Beatitudes to His disciples, He established a new standard of truth that was to be actualized in the life of the believer—a standard that would result in holy and sanctified (set apart) living.  Paul declared himself to be a truth teller.  While it resulted in his persecution and polarization from the mainstream, he boldly proclaimed:  “None of these things [persecution and prison] move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I can finish my race with joy.” (Acts 20:24)  Dare to be a truth teller.

Good to the Last Byte…

We must ask ourselves why we sometimes choose to believe a lie rather than the truth.  The truth may be related to our life style, our family, or even about us personally.  Perhaps we are judgmental, critical, or unforgiving.  That’s why it is so important to regularly pray that the Holy Spirit expose those areas that interfere with receiving the truth of God.

Hold Fast to the WORD

“Preach the Word…” 2 Tim. 4:2 (NKJ)

The Word of God is the truth by which believers are to successfully navigate this world.  “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right.  It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT). As believers operate in these end times, it is critical that they are able to stand fast in their faith and boldly proclaim the truth of God’s Word.

Current worldview has created an atmosphere where biblical principles and practices are continually challenged, if not totally ignored.   The demand for social and moral freedom has set the stage for denial of biblical truth and authority. The Bible is seen as neither God speaking nor the actual Word of God. Instead, it is seen as an inhibitor to self-determination and self-gratification.  In 21st century vernacular, the Bible is a “buzz kill” taking the “edge of people’s fluff.”[1]

College students relegate the Bible to the status of “glorified fairy tales” with little substantive value. (Lord, help them!) These individuals will be our future workforce, leaders, and yes, our Church. Gen Xers and Millennials, seeking answers on how to live purposeful lives, discount the Bible as “irrelevant and inadequate” for the challenges they face. These generations are a formidable influence in the shaping of not only our current political and social policies but also in determining the religious beliefs of generations to come. And who will direct these groups to the “light of God’s Word” (Ps. 119:105)? Current believers and the Church? There is little difference between them and the aforementioned groups. They seldom read their Bibles, let alone use it as the final authority on truth with their families or in their personal life. They look no different than the rest of the world.

These patterns of disbelief should not come as a surprise. Paul in his letter to Timothy exhorted him:

“Preach the word of God. Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear. They will reject the truth and follow strange myths.”                                                                                                                                                                 2 Timothy 4:2-4 (NLT)

The Word of God will continue to be challenged by the World and yes, even the Church. It is because of this fact that believers are to stand firm based on the power, sufficiency, and authority of the Word of God.  Paul’s instructions are still pertinent for believers today.  We are to boldly proclaim, without excuse, the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture over the worldview. How do we prepare for this challenge? Read books to help you defend your faith. Listen to Christian teachers who can help you answer frequent questions people have about God and His Word. Finally, ask the Holy Spirit (your Personal Teacher) to help you respond to challenges and push back you might receive. Remember, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).  Hold fast to the Word!

[1] Urbandictionary.com

Can You Handle the Truth?

“…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:31-32 (NRSV)

The 1992 acclaimed film, A Few Good Men, revolves around the court-martial of two U.S. Marines charged with the murder of a fellow Marine and the tribulations of their lawyers as they prepare a case to defend their clients.  Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson), the highest ranking officer on the base is rigorous interrogated by a young defense lawyer, Kaffee (Tom Cruise) to uncover the truth behind this heinous crime.  Kaffee admonishes Jessep to tell the truth.  Agitated by want he sees as a direct affront to his authority, Jessep retorts, “You want the truth?  You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

Can we handle the truth?  Especially when that truth is measured against the authority of Scripture and the lordship of Jesus Christ?  This month’s series, “In Search of Truth”, will focus on the believer’s challenge to walk in biblical truth while living in a postmodern world.

With all the political rhetoric and social bantering, it is clear that this world is in need of truth.  But can we handle it?  Behind the news bytes and sound bits, there is an intention movement currently underway to redefine what truth is and what it isn’t.  This is nothing new.  This inclination to “repackage” the truth comes directly from the father of lies, Satan himself (John 8:44).   Be careful how you define truth or you too may fall prey to the subtly of deception.  “Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?” (Gen. 3:1, NLT)

In decades past, people could depend on the media to communicate the “truth” with regard to specific issues of the day.  Newspapers, magazine publications and newscasters were committed to operate at the highest ethical standards.  In addition, people could depend on their local leaders—civic or religious—to offer truth, as they knew best.  But over time that has changed.  Unfortunately both media and individuals can only offer their own opinions based on personal agendas or corporate bias, leaving individuals still “in search for truth”.  Truth is now shaped by social media and image consultants—by the number of “likes”, “retweets” and “followers” one can amass.

What is truth?  Truth is defined as that which agrees with reality.  The believer’s reality and meaning is grounded in God.  That reality began in the Garden of Eden.  Created in God’s image, our purpose and destiny is tied to our identity in Him through Christ (Col. 3:3).  This reality was sidetracked by sin and replaced with Satan’s counterfeit that placed self on the throne where only Christ was to be seated and exalted.  Because of Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross, our sins were forgiven and we are now reconciled back to God (2 Cor. 5:18, 19).  When we affirm our faith, we acknowledge that we have died to our old sin nature (Gal. 5:24) and walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).  We no longer follow the worldview—its influence was negated by the Blood.  Our meaning and reality is now realigned with God (2 Cor. 5:15).   “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a).

More than ever before, believers must connect with the only True Source of Truth, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior (John 14:6).  God’s Word and the Spirit of Truth stand ready to silence the lies, myths and fables we might hear  (2 Tim. 4:3-4).  God is the only source of truth for our lives.  Can you handle the truth?

For Christ’s Sake, Part 2

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:12 (NRS)

Disciples of Jesus Christ are to “rejoice and be glad” when they are persecuted.  This doesn’t appear to be a “realistic response”, whether living in the first or the twenty-first century, especially for those who live under the influence of Satan and the world (Ep. 6:12).  It is, however, both realistic and reasonable, for those who are in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:12).  Kingdom living does not look like the world—it is radically different!  Believers are to adhere to the truth of God’s Word, living holy and righteous lives, with no expectation of acceptance or support by this fallen world.  It is God who is the rewarder and sustainer of those who are called to His purpose and who find their meaning in Him (Ep. 2:10; Acts 17:28).

The Disciples were to “rejoice and be glad” during persecution because their focus was to be on the future—the kingdom of heaven yet to come.  The Apostle Paul described the trials and persecutions that the Disciples would experience as “light afflictions lasting only for a moment in comparison with eternity.”  And what would be the reward for such suffering?  An exceeding and eternal weight of glory!    J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase expresses Paul’s thought more succinctly:

These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for us a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain, For we are looking all the time not at the visible things but at the invisible. The visible things are transitory: it is the invisible things that are really permanent.   2 Cor. 4:17-18

Rather than looking at their external circumstances, the Disciples were re-directed by Jesus to focus on what couldn’t be seen with the “physical eye”—the spiritual reward awaiting them in heaven.

This final beatitude offered comfort to the Disciples by comparing them with another group of highly esteemed, holy men who experienced persecution for righteous living—the Old Testament prophets.  The prophets were commissioned to present “thus says the Lord”; calling for repentance and return to God (Is. 30:15).  The Disciples were called to continue the ministry that Jesus began.  They were to present the gospel of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19) and through the Holy Spirit, men would be drawn to repentance and to the knowledge of Jesus the Christ (2 Pet.3:9).  Both groups faced persecution on earth for “righteousness’ sake” yet they looked forward to their promised reward from God (Dan. 7:18, 22, 27; Matt. 5:12).

Like the Disciples, believers today are to “rejoice and be glad” when faced with persecution.  We are to keep our “eye on the prize”—eternal reward in heaven versus the momentary enticement of this world.   This is a difficult concept for 21st century man to embrace; it is contradictory to a world that demands “instant gratification” and trusts only in what it can see.  To persevere during persecution, believers must continually remind themselves who they are (Rom. 8:17; Col. 3:12), why they are here (Ep. 2:10; Matt. 28:19-20) and where they are ultimately going (1 Pet. 2:11; 2 Cor. 5:1).

As believers, we must accept the reality that if we truly live for Christ, we will suffer persecution. However, we are confident and find comfort in knowing that God is sovereign and has already obtained victory over Satan and the world (Matt. 28:18; Col. 2:15).  God will sustain and deliver us, just as He did for the Prophets and for the Disciples who preceded us (Ps. 27:1).  We rejoice and are glad, for our reward is in heaven.

“Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life,

and may enter in through the gates into the city.”  Revelation 22:14

Good to the Last Byte…

Although the Prophets never witnessed the fulfillment of the Messiah in their life time, they anticipated “future glory” as reward for their faithfulness to God (Is. 35:2).

For Christ’s Sake, Part 1

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my (Jesus) account.”  Matthew 5:11 (NRS)

Righteous living detailed in the Beatitudes to this point represented “internal changes” followers of Christ should exhibit as a result of their “new nature” (2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus would end His teaching by sharing the “external response” righteous living would evoke for allegiance to Him. It would be for Christ’s sake, that persecution would follow.

This final Beatitude continues the theme of persecution that began in Matt. 5:10. In this eleventh verse, however, there is a dramatic shift in Jesus’ teaching pattern. Up to this point, Jesus has spoken of the Beatitudes in the third person “they”; the object of persecution now shifts to “you” (second person). For the Disciples, who were the immediate recipients of Jesus’ teachings, this shift would require them to deal with the reality that they too would now be the objects of abuse and suffering. Why? For Christ’s sake. If they exhibited the righteous behaviors Jesus outlined to this point, they, like Jesus Christ, would be viewed as a threat to the status quo–with its injustice, inequities, and sin.

It was not Jesus’ “goodness” that the world hated (and still hates)–unbelievers are good, but it was the impact His righteous and holy living had (and still has) on a sinful world. Darkness was exposed and those who practiced it felt uncomfortable and threatened by the light of Christ (John 3:19-21). It was not Jesus’ “kindness” that they feared–unbelievers can be kind, but what they feared was the reality that all who choose this fallen world and sinful living over Christ and eternal life relinquished the possibility of participating in the kingdom of heaven–today or in the future (1 John 3:2).

Kingdom living, living for Christ’s sake, ushered in a new way of thinking and behaving (life style) that would transform the heart. Change would not begin outside but from within (Ezek. 36:26-27). One can simply look to the Bible and see those whom Jesus transformed from “dishonorable vessels” to “vessels of honor” (2 Tim. 2:20-21).  The Apostles Paul and Peter are examples of changed lives who would later be persecuted for Christ’s sake.  This kind of transformation was unheard of  in the 1st century life. It is no surprise that the Jesus’ teachings would later be blamed for “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

Jesus shared “the cost” for living for His sake. He characterized persecution in three distinct ways: first, in word (reviled), secondly, in act (persecuted) and thirdly in accusations of evil (all kinds of evil spoken falsely). Jesus’ description of persecution also indicated the response the Church would face as it sat in the midst of a fallen world. The first church, like the Disciples, could expect to be in perpetual collision with the world. They were antagonists to the evil they challenged. Persecution, for Christ’s sake still exists in the 21st century. It is not unique to distant countries on a map but is alive and active in our glorious nation. Satan hates the things that Christ stands for and daily orchestrates personal persecution of believers who choose to live for Christ.

Living for Christ’s sake is radical living anchored in the reality of Jesus Christ and the new life His followers now enjoy–a life of freedom, peace, and blessedness. This life style is reflected in how we think and act. We are poor in spirit–dependent on the saving grace of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We are meek and we mourn–under girded by the tender mercies and comfort of the Holy Spirit within us. We hunger and thirst for righteousness–“as the deer pants after the brook”, so we passionately pursue intimacy with God. We are both agents and recipients of God’s mercy and peace. Through confession and repentance, we strive for purity of heart so that we may see God–His will and His way.

As we experience persecution for righteousness’ sake, let us emulate the spirit of Peter and the other Apostles as they demonstrated their boldness in living for Christ’s sake.

Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority.’

As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name (Acts 5:29, 41).

 

To Thee, my God, I flee,

to hide from the rebuke and hate of man,

who daily pursues, oppresses, and wrests my words;

hide me in the secret of Thy pavilion,

I entreat Thee, from the strife of tongues.

F. B. Meyer

Blessed Are Ye