Devotions

The Kingdom of God is … and is not …

Joy in the Spirit

The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. – Romans 14:17

In sermons lately, I’ve been illustrating the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of earth. The Kingdom of God is bright. The kingdom of earth is dark and dull, and – as we’ve been saying – The Tree of Blessing does not Grow in the Cursed Earth.

Standing at the intersection between the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of earth is Jesus. That’s why he came to earth. That’s why, at the beginning of his ministry, he proclaimed that the “Kingdom of Heaven has come near” (Mt 4:17).

So what is the kingdom of earth? Our earthly realm, while made good by God, is also corrupted by sin. It is physical. It is temporal. There is certainly good, but there is also darkness and despair. There is justice and injustice, blessing and curse. To survive in the kingdom of earth, fragile creatures must rely on “food and drink.” It’s necessary fuel. But it’s more than that. “Eat, drink, and be merry” is an earthy way of life. And we don’t have to be gluttons or drunkards to focus our lives on priorities and particulars of the earth.

But, “the Kingdom of God” is different. Today’s verse tells us that it’s “not food and drink,” money or property, power or greed. Rather it is “righteousness and peace and joy.” The Kingdom of God is perpetual “joy.” With God there is unending “peace.” God’s way includes eternal “righteousness.” And we catch glimpses of all three – as so much more – on this earth. After all, God made this world good. But because of sin, we experience it only intermittently. Therefore, if we want more “righteousness and peace and joy,” we need to rush to the one who came from heaven and stands at the intersection. That is Jesus – the second person of the Trinity. And the third person of the Trinity continually fans those flames of blessings as “righteousness and peace and joy [is] in the Holy Spirit.”

How much of the world do you have in your life? And how much Jesus? He and Holy Spirit are the secret to greater “peace and joy.”

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who has

a Spirit of Joy!

How Much Does Sin Cost?

Fair

When you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not cheat one another. – Leviticus 25:14

On the day my eldest son got married, one of us needed a little piece of clothing we’d forgotten. No big deal. There was a Marshalls near our hotel.

We went in not long after the store opened. Mary Louise, Robbie, and I were the only shoppers in the store. Yet there were four employees. One ran the register. The other four were guards – one guarded the front door, one guarded the dressing room, one guarded the floor (making sure you weren’t shoplifting). I thought, “I wonder how much extra my socks cost because of other people’s sin?!”

Sometimes some customers are not trustworthy, forcing businesses to hire guards (and passing the costs along to honest customers). Yes, some customers are not trustworthy. But sometimes some business owners are not trustworthy either. For example, have you ever heard the story of the butcher who’d put his fat thumb on the scales when he was measuring out for you a “pound” of beef? And apparently that’s not just a modern problem. Thirty-five hundred years ago, God told his people – Leviticus 19:36 – “You shall have honest balances [scales], honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”

How much does sin cost? The need for security guards and virus protection. Poorly made products and planned obsolescence steal from the customer. Lazy employees steal from bosses by not putting in an honest day’s work. Conceiving children out of wedlock often dooms yet another generation to poverty and dependence on others for financial support. There’s plagiarism and fudging on taxes and not returning borrowed objects. There’s fraud and dishonest advertising and identity theft.

Oh my, how much does sin cost? And how much does it hurt God’s heart?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who remembers the story

of St. Augustine in his Confession:

As a boy, he followed friends

into an orchard to steal pears,

not because he was truly hungry,

but because he wanted to be

perceived as “tough,” “dangerous.”

It haunted him for generations.

He saw it as a moral crisis.

Do we see our compromises

as a crisis or not a big deal?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do Not Delay a God-Appointed Journey

Journey

Do not delay me, since the Lord has made my journey successful. – Genesis 24:56

“We’re on a mission for God.” Jim Belushi and Dan Akroyd said that line for comic effect in the old movie, The Blues Brothers. (I still haven’t watched that movie – I was too young at its premiere – but you couldn’t escape that line in culture for a few years in the Seventies.)

“We’re on a mission for God” was played for laughs in the movie, but how many characters in Scripture could have said something like today’s verse – “Do not delay me, since the Lord has [prompted] my journey”?

  • Moses could have said it when he approached Pharaoh, asking him to let God’s people go: “This is the Lord’s journey. Do not delay us!”
  • And Moses could have said it again in the wilderness as he tried to lead the Israelites toward the Promised Land: “Why do y’all keep complaining? Why do you keep delaying us? The Lord yearns to make this journey successful.”
  • The Apostle Paul could have said it as he yearned to go to Rome to proclaim the Good News … but they kept arresting him and slowing him down.
  • The Wise Men could have said it as they approached King Herod: “We know we’re close. Don’t delay us. Where is the child born King of the Jews?”

They were on a mission for God … and so was the servant of Abraham in Genesis 24. As a young man, Abraham had been called out of the land of Ur. At God’s prompting, he came to the Promised Land and settled. As an old man, Abraham was finally given a son. When his son was of marrying age, Abraham sent his servant back to his old home region with instructions to find a Isaac a bride. When the servant found Rachel, the family was reluctant to let her go – at least quickly – so the servant says essentially, “The Lord has made my quest successful. I have found Isaac a bride. Now do not delay me.”

You and I are on missions for God. Sometimes we know a specific mission. And if we don’t, we ought to know our general mission. As Rick Warren defines it in The Purpose-Driven Life, all of us are – at minimum – called to five purposes: Worship, Discipleship, Fellowship, Service, and Evangelism. Meaning: You (and I) are on missons for God. So what (if anything) is delaying you?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who sometimes

lets the GOOD get in

the way of the GREAT

Why Did God Highly Exalt Jesus?

Exalted

Therefore, God also highly exalted Christ Jesus and gave him the name that is above every name. – Philippians 2:9

Some scholars believe that much of Philippians 2 quotes one of Christianity’s oldest hymns. Today, I just want to invite you to read these majestic words, and then I’ll ask you a simple question based on today’s verse …

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

8 he humbled himself

and became obedient

to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

Therefore God

also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth

and under the earth,

11 and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

So here’s the question: Why did God highly exalt Jesus?

 

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who believes that

that this “exalting” was

simply, wonderfully, rightfully

restoring the Son to his place

on heaven’s throne.

Jesus the Son was faithful and obedient

to come to earth and sacrifice himself,

and the Father is faithful to raise him.

 

 

Condemnation

Condemnation

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1

Condemned.

It’s a hard word. In legal terms, I usually associate it with the death penalty. And that’s precisely how the Apostle Paul used it in Romans 8. A few chapters earlier, Paul told us that “the wages of sin is death” (6:23), and since “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glorious standard” (3:23), the natural condition for us all is a death sentence. We are all – by our original nature – “condemned.”

And that’s the point of the first eight chapters of Romans … and the first three chapters of Ephesians. Paul is building a case, and he wants you to know that on your own, you are “dead,” “doomed,” and “sinful.” (That’s Paul’s succinct summary of our condition in Ephesians 2:1 – “Once you were dead, doomed forever by your many sins.)

In the verses just before our verse for today, the Apostle laments his own internal sense of helpless, saying, “19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. … 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

If you want to know how Paul – and you and me – go from utterly hopeless, “wretched,” “dead,” “doomed,” and “sinful” to the surprising, miraculous verdict of “no condemnation,” we like Paul must learn to answer his question in Romans 7:24: “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Who? The words that immediately precede today’s verse answer the question: “25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

  • On our own: “dead,” “doomed,” “sinful,” and condemned.
  • Through Christ: forgiven, redeemed, hopeful, and free with “no condemnation.”

I’ll bet most of you knew that, right? But do you know it deep down so that …

  • you’re free from worry and fear, and
  • you can explain it to a “dying” friend?

In Christ’s Love,

a wretched man,

rescued from death

What Do You (Really) Rely On?

Rely On

Alas for those who rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many, but do not consult the Lord!  – Isaiah 31:1

What do you rely on? Ancient generals relied on horses and chariots. Modern generals rely on air strikes and ground support. But is the stronger army always enough?

The Midianites gathered 135,000 soldiers against Gideon and his 32,000 troops. Under normal circumstances 135,000 will always defeat 32,000. But you can certainly imagine a scenario in which – with the right strategy, the better fortifications, the better weapons, or the superior will – where 32,000 could defeat 132,000. So God said to Gideon – Judges 7:2 – “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.”

So God instructed Gideon to let anyone who is “3 fearful and trembling [to] return home.” Most did. “3 Twenty-two thousand returned and [only] ten thousand remained.” Could 10,000 ever defeat 132,000? Doubtful. But if they did, God knew they’d still take human credit.

So God said “4 still too many.” So God had Gideon send the army down to the river and have his soldiers drink. Gideon was not allowed to keep the soldiers who drank from the river by cupping their hands (9,700 of them), but only the 300 who lapped water like a dog.

Could 300 ever defeat 132,000? No! If they did, it utterly, totally, miraculously had to be God! But guess what happened? Midian trusted essentially in horses, chariots, and superior numbers. But Gideon consulted God and he and 300 of the dogs of his army routed the superior human force.

If you’re looking for a formula it’s …

300 + God > 132,000

Another way to say this is:

You + God = an Overwhelming Majority

Is there a modern parallel to this? Yes. For centuries Israel did not exist. Similarly for centuries the Palestinians did not have a state. For centuries the Turks controlled the region known as Israel/Palestine. After the Turks were defeated in World War I, control shifted to England. But after WWII, Britain, beyond its Empire and Colonization phase and with mounting tensions in the region, gave control to the two peoples in the land – 2/3 Palestinians and 1/3 Jews. Through the UN, “the world” approved of the transfer. But the day after the formal transfer of the lands, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt attacked. The Palestinians were thoroughly defeated by their Arab neighbors. Their independence lasted one day. Israel – a one day old “country” – “somehow” defeated their much “superior” oppressors. How? Some “rely on horses,” others “trust in chariots” but could it be that You + God = an Overwhelming Majority?!

What do you rely on? It’s probably not horses and chariots, but I’ll bet there’s an occasional reliance on your modern chariot (your car). Indeed, I’ll bet there’s a lot of daily reliance on what money finances and on what insurance covers and what the government provides (if even just the roads). How could you and I rely more on God?

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who likes to

think he’s independent,

but when he stops

and thinks, is more

reliant on stuff

than he’d like

God Loves Us Freely

Heal

I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely. – Hosea 14:4

If I left out two words in this passage, it would reveal God’s grace. God says to his people, “I will heal …; I will love them freely.”

But what happens when you add those two missing words? It reveals God’s AMAZING GRACE! “I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely.”

Can you fathom that degree of love? Even when we rebel, God loves us freely. In spite of us being disloyal, God is faithful!

To demonstrate that degree of love, I need to remind you of the story of Hosea … Being a prophet was a crummy job. Usually the prophets had to poke their fingers in the king’s nose, saying essentially, “Your faithlessness and failures are the cause of God’s great displeasure and your people’s failings.” And then they had to run, hoping they wouldn’t be caught and executed.

Hosea’s job was a different king of crummy. In verse 2 of the book, God orders poor Hosea to “1:2 Go and take a wife who is a whore. Have children of harlotry … 3 So he went and took Gomer … and she conceived … a son.”

Here was God’s plan: Hosea would marry a prostitute. He was a good man. He’d obey God and learn to love Gomer. But his wife was not a “good” woman. Every now and then, she’d pine for her old amorous ways, and she’d just wander off. She’d cheat with every guy in town. She’d sell herself for wanton pleasure. And Hosea – steadfast and faithful – would go and track down his wife and bring her back and clean her up and restore her to a place of honor. And it would happen again … and again.

And just as Hosea’s neighbors were finally, fully laughing at Hosea, mocking him, judging him, was Hosea finally allowed to speak. Finally he spoke prophetically, saying essentially, “People of Israel, this is you. God is the faithful bridegroom, but you keep playing the whore with false gods and the Baals.”

“4:1 O people of Israel … hear the word of the Lord … for the Lord has an indictment against [you] … There is no faithfulness or loyalty … There is no knowledge of God in the land  … 2 Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. … 11 Win and new wine take away … understanding … 12 My people consult a piece of wood [idolatry] … and they have played the whore, [seeking other gods and] forsaking their God.”

But do you want to know how amazing God’s grace really is? Read today’s verse: “I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely.” (It took a few chapters and a call to repentance – see chapters 6 and 7 – but God is truly proven gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.)

In Christ’s Love,

a guy who’s glad

he was called

to be a pastor,

not a prophet!