Monday, September 24, 2007

Kingdom Living II

How did the number of Christians in the world grow from as few as 25,000 (about a half percent of the world's population) one hundred years after Christ’s death to up to 20 million in AD 310?

How did the early Christ-followers do it?

Consider this in your answer: they were an illegal religion, at best being tolerated & at worst tortured. They didn’t have buildings, as we know them. They didn’t have the compiled scriptures, as we know them. They had no professional pastors and leaders. There were no seeker services, youth groups, worship bands, or seminaries, and they actually made it hard to join the church! (Alan Hirsh, The Forgotten Ways, pp18-19)

How did the Chinese underground church grow despite considerable opposition? About 900,000 Protestants lived in the country at the time of the Communist takeover in 1949. Today China has about 111 million Christians, about 90 percent Protestant and mostly Pentecostal, according to the World Christian Database, published by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.

What if Stephen Harper confiscated all church property and outlawed church corporations. What would happen to Community of Hope? Would we actually cease to exist?

We often think that government protection helps the cause of Christ. Did Constantine really help? Listen to Rodney Stark, considered the preeminent historian of that period in church history:

He had many harmful effects. I don’t believe establishment is good for churches. It gets them involved in the worldly realm in ways that are unsuitable and corrupting. By the end of Constantine’s reign, we see people competing madly to become bishops because of the money. After that, Christianity was no longer a person-to-person movement.

People value religion on the basis of cost, and they don’t value the cheapest ones the most. Religions that ask nothing get nothing. Rodney Stark

Jesus made disciples of His early followers. He had apprentices, which simply means, “Learner.”

Jesus wanted them to live the most exhilarating kind of life imaginable. We can learn from Jesus how to have a new internal character. Jesus teaches that a good heart is what God intends for us and what He makes possible. Jesus wants to replace the boiling pot of human evil in us with genuine compassion, purity and good will. He wants to give us a new identity, to set us on a learning journey- a journey of transformation and a new place to live life, the kingdom of God. “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

"Balance is not a matter of managing your time or giving equal effort to two opposing sides; it is about aligning your behavior with what you believe is really important to you. When our lives don't reflect our values, we feel that inconsistency as some measure of imbalance." Joan Gurvis, Center for Creative Leadership

‘What is really important to you’ is a synonym for identity. If our behavior doesn’t line up with our identity, there’s a conflict going on. That internal conflict is a process of personal deconstruction and transformation that every follower of Jesus is engaged in. We call it discipleship.

We are told to put off our old self. To die daily, to pick up our cross.

The task of our lives is to bring every aspect of our lives, communal and individual, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The vision is Jesus, plain & simple. Jesus and holiness. Holiness means bringing all spheres of life under God. That is the definition of biblical worship- loving God with all of our heart, mind & strength.

Romans 10:9
That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

"Jesus is Lord." That’s a radical claim. It’s rooted in our allegiance, of who or what has ultimate authority, of what is the standard and ultimate norm of life.

Lee C. Camp wonders if that is one of the most widespread Christian lies. In his book Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World he asks, “Have Christians claimed the lordship of Jesus, but systematically set aside the call to obedience to this lord? At least in Rwanda, with “Christian Hutus” slaughtering “Christian Tutsis (and vice versa), “Christian” apparently served as a faith brand name–a “spirituality,” or a “religion”–but not a commitment to a common Lord.”

Revelation 3:14-22
"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

How did Jesus get on the outside to begin with?

When we lose our master, our teacher, we lose everything. Kingdom living is about rediscovering our teacher and living with Him right now.

Being a Christian is not simply about going to heaven. It is about living in the Kingdom of God today. Being a Christ follower. A follower of the Jesus Way.

Right behavior does not necessarily lead to true identity, but true identity will eventually produce right behavior. The first looks like holiness; the second is.

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,”

“Our Father, who is closer than the air I breathe.”

What is the message of my life?

Am I being read as a disciple? Do people see a clear picture of Jesus through my personhood?

Discipleship is to embody the message of Jesus Christ. We are on the way...

Coming back to that idea of congruence, our insides, our identity matching our outside, our behavior, Soren Kierkegaard said this 150 years ago:

"The truth exists not in knowing the truth intellectually but in being the truth.” Paul wrote, ‘believing in your heart.’

Kingdom living is learning to be the truth. It is to know and live the reality of Colossians 3 and to experience the love of 1 Corinthians 13, to receive it and to share it.

I want to finish by looking at four levels of happiness. What we pursue, what we think gives us happiness will in many ways determine our identity. And our identity will determine whether we want to enter the kingdom of God with Jesus.

1. Happiness level 1 is finding happiness in physical pleasure and possession of material things. Happiness 1 is about gaining physical gratification through the fulfillment of our five senses. The venti mocha tastes good, and I feel good having drunk it. The new 42-inch plasma HDTV makes NFL football spectacular to watch.This level of happiness is good. But, if we only live for instant gratification, we soon become bored.Suffering has no meaning at this level. When we are deprived of pleasures and possessions, we feel pain and experience suffering. We question suffering and fail to see how any good can come from pain.

After we get our ‘kicks’, we almost always desire ‘more.’

We cannot consume our way to discipleship. The 'competition' to our making the claim that Jesus is Lord is Consumerism!

Advertising & marketing is all about identity, not the product itself. Have you ever gone to a mall to wander around for 'Retail Therapy'?

2. Happiness level 2 is finding happiness in ego-gratification. We get a boost of ego when we succeed, are in control, are admired, or win a competition. This happiness accompanies winning a soccer game, graduating from school, or getting a job promotion.Happiness 2 is good. We need to work toward goals and finish projects. But, we have to be careful if happiness is found only in achievement or ego-gratification because we'll be living in constant competition with other people. If things don't go our way, or we embarrass ourselves, or we fail, we can sink into depression. If pain or illness causes us to lose some control or become dependent on others, we begin to see life as useless or meaningless. Suffering is seen as something to be avoided at all costs--we may begin to live in fear of suffering because it inhibits our ability to achieve.

Our self-worth, our goals in life and sense of belonging can become dependent on these expectations and achievements. As long as they are achieved we’re happy. Our happiness is dependent on good things happening. When bad things happen, when our will is thwarted, then we become very upset.

3. Happiness level 3 is doing good for another person. This is the joy of giving a gift, teaching a child to tie his shoelaces, baking cookies for a friend.In addition to the happiness we find in giving to others, we also find happiness in being with others. When we give our very selves by playing "Go Fish" with a child or listening to a friend who is suffering, we find spending time in the presence of someone else can make us happy.

Nonetheless, if we make Happiness Level 3 our "end," we become frustrated because we can never do enough to help others--for there is always more to do! Another pitfall is thinking someone else will bring us ultimate happiness. This is too large of a task to ask another person to accomplish for us, or for us to try to accomplish for another person. Although we can help someone find happiness, we can't be "ultimate happiness."

The feelings of happiness here, hope, positivity and the like, are different than lower levels like achievement, control, winning, etc.

4. Happiness level 4 is faith and participation in the unconditional, never-ending love of God. (Even those who do not believe in God still have this desire for the ultimate. Some may call it a universal force, or some other name.) It is believing that there is such a thing as perfect, ultimate, unconditional, and eternal Truth, Love, Beauty, Goodness, and Justice.

It's learning that the only person who is without limits is God, and that God loves us so much, that He wants us to be a part of His Love forever. If we truly believe that this is our final goal, then we know what it means to be human. People are no longer problems, they are mysteries. We look for the "good news" in other people. We desire good for the other so much, that it becomes just as easy to do good for someone else as for ourselves.

Happiness level 4 keeps the other three levels in proper perspective. Our final goal is to find happiness by accepting the perfect, unconditional love of God, and by giving ourselves away in love to others (even when this requires suffering). Sometimes loving others causes us suffering and sacrifice, but with a Happiness level 4 outlook, we see that suffering can result in a greater good. Our suffering can actually provide others the opportunity to give of themselves through their love and sacrifice for us.

All the way back to Plato humans have been thought of as ‘ultimatizers.’ Kids keep asking ‘why’ to get to the ultimate answer. They wonder about fairness, justice, and so do we.

We find all of this complete in God. This search, this God-shaped vacuum in all of us sets us on a quest to find God and participate in a relationship with Him. Faith and surrender to God
The first two levels are our domain. The latter two the domain of others and God. We can’t live in the kingdom when we live for ourselves. I want…

There’s a scene in Evan Almighty where Evan Baxter tells Morgan Freeman, who’s playing God, his plans. Freeman immediately laughs and the scene moves on.

Living in the kingdom of God is walking in the character and power of Jesus Christ.

His plan is not to get the uncommitted to get committed, but to get those who are committed to grow into the fullness of Jesus Christ.

What level of happiness are you searching for?

Matthew 6:19-34
"Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

"Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!

"You can't worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you'll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can't worship God and Money both.

"If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

"Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

I think you know where God is found…


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