YOUR KINGDOM COME

This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” [Matthew 6:9-10 (NIV)]

Remember that the same Christ who tells us to say, “Give us this day our daily bread,” had first given us this petition, “Hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Let not your prayers be all concerning your own sins, your own wants, your own imperfections, your own trials, but let them climb the starry ladder, and get up to Christ Himself, and then, as you draw nigh to the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat, offer this prayer continually, “Lord, extend the kingdom of Thy dear Son.” [Charles Spurgeon]

sunflowerIt wasn’t until I read Charles Spurgeon’s paraphrase of “Your kingdom come,” as “Lord, extend the kingdom of Thy dear Son,” that I truly gave serious thought to what it means to pray, “Your (or “Thy”) kingdom come.” Although we say it every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, what exactly do those three words mean? After all, that was God Himself giving His disciples a guideline to prayer and there certainly couldn’t be a better teacher! Since there are over seventy references to the Kingdom of God in the New Testament and this petition immediately follows praising God’s name in Jesus’ prayer, the coming of God’s Kingdom clearly was important to Him.

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection opened the doors to God’s Kingdom. Yet, it is only when Jesus comes again at the end of the age that God’s Kingdom will reign with power and authority. While this petition is for the fulfillment of the Kingdom with Christ’s return, it is much more than that. As we pray for the coming of Jesus in the future, these three words also are a petition for the expansion of God’s Kingdom in the present. They are a prayer that the gospel message will be preached to and accepted by all so that the whole world will be made Christ’s Kingdom and filled with His glory. We’re asking God to reveal Himself in such a way that His kingdom is visible here on earth and that He will open the hearts of those we encounter and to whom we witness.

Praying that God’s Kingdom will come is also an acknowledgement that He is our sovereign king and the ruler of our lives. Even though the Kingdom will not be complete until the second coming of Christ, we can experience it today. This leads into  the next petition of “Your will be done,” in which we ask Him to enable us to do what is pleasing to Him. May we be genuine, faithful, obedient, and capable servants of His Kingdom!

Although my lips frequently speak the words, ”Your Kingdom come,” until considering Spurgeon’s words, I barely understood their magnitude. In my personal prayers, I have neglected praying for the coming of God’s Kingdom—the day when Jesus will return and all things will be restored. Although I remember to pray for pastors, missions, and missionaries, the expansion of God’s Kingdom here and now and the role I should play in that expansion has never been on the top of my prayer list either.

If the coming of His Kingdom is God’s priority, perhaps it should be ours as well. Moreover, we should prove the truth of our prayers by putting our words into Kingdom-promoting action. Let us be like the Apostle Paul who, “proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” [Acts 28:31]

We therefore pray that God would exert his power, both by the Word and by the Spirit, that the whole world may willingly submit to him. [John Calvin]

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,  nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” [Luke 17:20-21 (NIV)]

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BUYING A FIELD

See how the siege ramps have been built against the city walls! Through war, famine, and disease, the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, who will conquer it. Everything has happened just as you said.  And yet O Sovereign LORD, you have told me to buy the field—paying good money for it before these witnesses—even though the city will soon be handed over to the Babylonians. Then this message came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me? [Jeremiah 32:24-27 (NLT)]

grand tetons - jackson holeUnder siege for nearly a year, Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonians, and Judah’s future looked grim. Whether it was poverty or the desire to get rid of property that soon would be worthless once Babylon invaded, Hanamel decided to sell his land in Anathoth, about three miles from Jerusalem. Under Israelite law, property was supposed to stay within a family and so Hanamel offered it to his cousin, the prophet Jeremiah.

Since Anathoth already was under Babylonian control, Hanamel’s real estate deal would be like being offered property in Kabul, Afghanistan. While real estate often is considered a good investment, purchasing property in an active war zone or occupied territory is not. Nevertheless, even though Jeremiah was imprisoned in the palace courtyard and the nation’s defeat was inevitable, God instructed him to become the property’s redeemer by purchasing his cousin’s land.

Having prophesied the fall of Judah, the destruction of Jerusalem, Zedekiah’s imprisonment, and the Jews’ captivity, Jeremiah knew how worthless the land was. Although he lawfully could refuse to purchase it, the prophet paid his cousin 17 shekels (about 18-months’ wages) for the land which, considering the circumstances, seems a sizeable sum for land he’d never live to enjoy. Assuring his scribe Baruch that the worthless land again would have value, he told him to take the deeds, place them in a clay jar (the ancient version of a safety deposit box), and preserve them in a safe place, The prophet then passed along God’s hopeful words to all those who witnessed the transaction in the courtyard: “Someday people will again own property here in this land and will buy and sell houses and vineyards and fields.”

Along with his prophecies of Jerusalem’s ruin, Judah’s defeat, and the people’s captivity, Jeremiah had prophesied God’s eventual restoration of the people to their land. He didn’t buy the land because Judah wouldn’t be conquered; he purchased it because it would! The prophet was putting his money where his mouth was. His purchase of a worthless piece of acreage was an act of faith. It was a sign of hope for the future by the man who’d prophesied doom and gloom—a powerful demonstration of his belief in God’s promise that the land would again have value and belong to the Jews.

If we want to see the fulfillment of God’s promises to us, like Jeremiah, we must be obedient to God’s commands, no matter how difficult, confusing, or absurd they seem to be. In the face of obstacles, hardship, or overwhelming odds, we must demonstrate our faith and hope in God because faith and obedience go hand in hand. If we say we believe His promises, we must act as if we truly do! May we always remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord!

I will certainly bring my people back again from all the countries where I will scatter them in my fury. I will bring them back to this very city and let them live in peace and safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. And I will give them one heart and one purpose: to worship me forever, for their own good and for the good of all their descendants. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me, and they will never leave me. I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land. [Jeremiah 32:37-41 (NLT)]

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THE APOLOGY

He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. [Ephesians 1:7 (NLT)]

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? [Romans 6:1-2 (NLT)]

golden mantled ground squirrelI’m not sure if Hammie MacPherson, the mischievous little boy mentioned in yesterday’s devotion, ever made his annoying noise again but, in another “Baby Blues” comic by Kirkman and Scott, he tells his mother, “I’m sorry and I promise it will never happen again.” When she asks what he’s done, he says he doesn’t yet know. “It’s still early,” he adds, “so I thought I’d get the apology out of the way first.”

Contemplating the day’s mischief, Hammie apologized in advance. I’m not so sure our forgiving God welcomes that approach to forgiveness. After all, an apology is merely an excuse. The word “apology” comes from the Greek apologia, meaning a speech in one’s defense. The original English sense of the word “apology” was self-justification. Most definitely, either in advance or after the fact, God is not interested in any defense of our indefensible actions.

Granted, Christ died for all of our sins—past, present, and future—but I’m pretty sure God’s promise of forgiveness doesn’t give us free rein to do as we please. Although Christ’s sacrifice paid our debt, we haven’t been given carte blanche to deliberately live sinfully. God’s forgiveness involves repentance on our part and genuine repentance includes not just a confession of wrongdoing but also a willingness to make things right and to do better in the future. Confessing our unnamed sins in advance of their commission indicates neither remorse nor repentance.

When the comic strip’s Hammie does something naughty, as he surely will, his loving mother will forgive him. His disobedience, however, will disappoint her, incur her anger, and cause him to be disciplined (the “or else” in yesterday’s message). When we accepted Christ, we may have been declared righteous but we still have a long way to go before we act righteously. Like the little boy, we continue to go astray. Fortunately, our salvation is secure in Christ and our sins have been forgiven in advance. Nevertheless, we must remember that they truly grieve God. With our sins, we risk both God’s divine displeasure and discipline. I doubt that apologizing in advance for willful disobedience will be successful in the MacPherson house; I know it won’t work in God’s!

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. [1 John 1:8-9 (NLT)]

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CRUEL WORDS

I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me. Save me, Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues. [Psalm 120:1-2 (NIV)]

canna - bandana of the evergladesFeeling wounded by an unwarranted condemnation, I was struggling with forgiving what to me were slanderous words. The peace that accompanies true forgiveness eluded me as the memory of the accusation haunted me. In comparison to the betrayals, deception, and abuse I’ve managed to forgive in my 74 years, this barely qualified as a misdemeanor. Nevertheless, my integrity had been called into question. Wounded in a way I never expected, I struggled to forgive.

I kept scratching at those hurtful words the way a child does a mosquito bite and, every time I did, it just got worse. Granted, there are far worse things than a false accusation but, sometimes, it’s the little things that are hardest to forgive. That my accuser hadn’t apologized helped fuel my resentment. Bringing my problem to God, I asked why I couldn’t let this slight go. Why was I allowing someone else to make me miserable over what really wasn’t worth losing sleep over?

As I prayed about it, God brought me to Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on Psalm 120 and his words about slander: “Those who have felt the edge of a cruel tongue know assuredly that it is sharper than the sword.” Aimed at our sense of honor, slurs and disparagement can be shot privately, polished up, and delivered with subtlety; nevertheless, they are tipped with poison. “We could ward off the strokes of a cutlass, but we have no shield against a liar’s tongue,” continued the famed 19th century preacher.

Pointing out that stirring up the allegation only makes it spread, Spurgeon continued: “Silence to man and prayer to God are the best cures for the evil of slander.” The Apostle Paul tells us that, “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.” [1 Cor. 4:12-13] Heeding the words of both Charles Spurgeon and Paul, I chose silence and prayer. My best response to the attack was quiet integrity rather than any of the sharp retorts filling my mind because the only One who needed to know the truth about me already did!

As for that missing apology—when Jesus told Peter to forgive seventy times seven times, He never set an apology as a prerequisite! As Christians, we are to have forgiving hearts, regardless of the circumstances. We must forgive with as much grace as God has forgiven us! We can’t do so on our own power but we can with God’s! As I resolved to be a peacemaker, God empowered me to forgive the offender.

When we are slandered it is a joy that the Lord knows us, and cannot be made to doubt our uprightness: he will not hear the lie against us, but he will hear our prayer against the lie. [Charles Spurgeon]

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. [Matthew 5:9-11 (NIV)]

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A GOOD SERMON

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke and encourage your people with good teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. … Work at telling the Good News and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. [2 Timothy 4:2-4,5b (NLT)]

fish vreek falls - COIn a Dennis the Menace comic strip (drawn by Marcus Hamilton), Dennis is sitting next to his father at church. As their offering envelope is dropped in the plate, he asks his father, “Can we get a refund if the sermon isn’t that good?” For Dennis and many church-goers, a good sermon is one that is pleasant and entertaining. Unlike movies and concerts, however, sermons aren’t meant to be entertainment. The Christian church is neither the “church of what’s happening now” nor the church of “anything goes.” While many messages can make us feel good, feeling good is not the purpose of the Good News.

As much as the Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and others looked forward to hearing from the Apostle Paul, I doubt any of the early churches were entertained by his letters while they were read to the congregation. While he always had words of encouragement for the church, the intense Apostle appears to have had no sense of humor and his words were often ones of conviction and correction. False ideologies were corrected, sins of immorality were confronted, and proper behavior was addressed. Corinthian church members probably squirmed in their seats when Paul’s letters took them to task for infighting, abusing the Lord’s Supper, and their wanton behavior. When Paul told the Galatians they’d perverted the gospel of grace, surely not everyone welcomed his words. He unreservedly admonished the new churches for such things as false beliefs, divisiveness, lax morals, and questionable motives in preaching.

Although Paul’s words in his epistles are knowledgeable, articulate, and passionate, he admitted that he was a poor speaker [2 Cor. 11:6]. Some of the Corinthians even complained about his weak appearance and worthless speeches! [2 Cor. 10:10] Paul wasn’t an eloquent orator or an imposing figure and he probably wouldn’t have won a popularity with his messages. Nevertheless, apart from Jesus Himself, no one influenced the history of the Christian church more than Paul. Because of his words, the early church not only survived but thrived through persecution and troubled times. The 21st Century church faces many of those same problems—internal conflict, hypocrisy, questionable doctrine, arrogance, and a dumbing down instead of raising up. Without some tough love from our pulpits, can we survive and thrive?

Watered-down “feel good” messages that don’t condemn sin or challenge us to grow more like Christ are not the sort of epistles Paul would have written. They certainly aren’t the sort of messages Jesus gave. Yes, He spoke of peace, love and forgiveness, but Jesus also made people uneasy when He spoke of things like sacrifice, hypocrisy, obedience, repentance, taking up one’s cross, future persecution, and God’s judgment. With a sermon like that, Dennis might choose to demand a refund.

Let’s never forget that a good pastor is as zealous as was the Apostle Paul. His job is to shepherd his flock—to warn, correct, educate, rescue, convict, set goals, lead, and protect as well as to comfort, nurture and encourage. His job is not to make us happy; it is to guide us on the path to salvation. His job isn’t to preach only good news; it is to preach the gospel which is the Good News of Christ. It may not always be the news we want to hear; nevertheless, it is the news we need to hear.

It is far better to be plain in speech, yet walking openly and consistently with the gospel, than to be admired by thousands, and be lifted up in pride… [Matthew Henry]

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. [Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT)]

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TRYING TO SERVE TWO (Part 3)

You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind, or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. [Deuteronomy 5:7-9a (NLT)]

campionAlthough Elisha once worked his land with a plow and oxen, after he accepted Elijah’s cloak, he burnt his plow and oxen, left home, and joined Elijah as an itinerant prophet who depended on others for food and shelter. We know that every time Elisha passed through Shunem, he was fed and sheltered by a family there and Scripture tells us that pious Israelites commonly brought gifts to the prophets they consulted. So why wouldn’t Elisha accept any of Naaman’s generous gifts?

As a pagan Aramean who was ignorant of Jehovah, Naaman was used to priests and prophets who greedily demanded rewards for their services. As a servant of God, however, Elisha knew it was wrong to accept payment for Naaman’s healing. After all, he’d done nothing but tell the man to wash himself in the Jordan seven times. Elisha’s refusal of payment made it clear to Naaman that Israel’s powerful God alone had done the healing and God’s grace and miracles are not for sale. When Jehovah made Himself known to the pagan warrior, Naaman realized that, rather than being one of many gods, the God of Israel was the only God. Saying, “There is no God in all the world except in Israel,” the Aramean vowed never again to worship another god.

Naaman then made a rather strange request—that he be allowed to load two mules with some of Israel’s dirt to take back home. While that seems a bizarre sort of souvenir to us, it made perfect sense to Elisha. The pagan people of the ancient Near East believed that gods were tied to the lands they ruled and that a deity only could be worshiped on the soil of the nation to which he was bound. If Naaman wanted to worship Israel’s God, he thought it necessary to use some of Israel’s dirt to make a brick altar on which to make sacrifices. The man who once undervalued and scorned Israel’s Jordan River now overvalued its dirt and wanted to take some back to Damascus! The pagan didn’t understand that all of earth’s soil is God’s!

Having converted to the God of Israel, Naaman made one more request of Elisha. Even though his heart was committed to Jehovah, Naaman knew there would be occasions when he would be required to enter the pagan temple with his master the king. The warrior requested Elisha’s permission and God’s forgiveness when he bowed to the Aramean god Rimmon. Although we’d expect Elisha to respond with the first commandment, the prophet didn’t address Naaman’s dilemma. He simply encouraged the man’s desire to be faithful to God while serving a pagan king with these words, “Go in peace.”

Elisha’s words were ones of grace acknowledging that the world is filled with difficult decisions for people of faith. Unlike Naaman, we may not be expected to bow down to an idol to please the king, but we regularly face both big and small moral dilemmas when we’re asked to bow to the idols of position, appearance, popularity, success, status, fashion, fame, wealth, reputation, or sex. We must ask ourselves who is our master and to what will we bow.

We don’t know what happened to Naaman but I wonder how serving two masters worked for him! I suspect one of them was not pleased.

So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. [Joshua 24:14 (NLT)]

Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” [Luke 4:8 (NLT)]

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