Last week, we began an eight-week teaching series called Bigger Than. It’s a title that lacks a subject and object! What’s bigger? The kingdom of God. What’s the kingdom of God bigger than? Everything except God himself! The kingdom of God was the central theme of all of Jesus’ teaching and it’s a huge concept found throughout our New Testament.
We are to seek the kingdom first. When we decide to follow Jesus, we make him the king or lord of our lives. We enter his kingdom where we have to live as citizens of his kingdom, under his authority. The kingdom overshadows all other concerns.
As we begin this series, may I encourage you to do a little study on your own about the kingdom of God. I prepared a Kingdom Study Guide that will take you to all the significant scriptures and teaching about the kingdom of God in the New Testament. The verses are printed out for you, so all you have to do is read them. You’ll be amazed at how vast this concept is. Get the Kingdom Study Guide here.
As you start the study, pray this simple prayer; ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how he wants you to respond as you read. Don’t just read the verses for information about the kingdom; read them asking God to guide you in how you need to be a greater part of and seek first the kingdom of God.
One of the texts you’ll read is from Luke 17:20-21. It says: Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Other translations say “among you.” What was Jesus saying about the kingdom of God here?
The Pharisees asked about the kingdom because every kingdom is led by a king. They wanted to know if Jesus thought he was the Messiah who would rule over an earthly kingdom. It was a trap because they had already decided Jesus wasn’t the Messiah.
Jesus’ response is that the kingdom won’t be found by looking for signs of the end time. Wars, disasters, pandemics, or some show of power are not signs of the kingdom coming. Instead, the king of the kingdom was, in fact, standing among them. That’s the point. The kingdom of God is centered on Jesus. He’s the king. We are the subjects of the king and his kingdom. As his subjects, we follow him, honor him and live the life he sets before us. Our values, agenda, commitments, actions, and very lives are to be shaped by his values and agenda, and our actions and character reflect the king.
Over the next seven weeks, we will look at how we allow the eternal kingdom of God to overshadow our petty human kingdom. We’ll look at what it means to be a part of the kingdom in our everyday life. Jesus is here among us. The kingdom is here!
Goodness. It’s not a word we are attracted to. It has connotations of being weak and wimpy. Goodness doesn’t win the races of life. The words of Billy Joel’s song ring in my ears: “Only the good die young.” We are more drawn to words like “strong.” Also, there’s a sense in which goodness is unattainable since the Bible says that no one is good. We are all sinners (Romans. 3:12). If we say we are good, others might accuse us of being arrogant. Yet, the root word for “good” is used over 700 times in the Bible.
God is good (Psalm 119:68). God, through his Word, implores us to be good. Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit having influence in our lives (Galatians 5:22). It characterized Jesus – “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Act 10:38). Jesus says others are to see our good deeds – that is how we shine as a light for others (Matthew 5:16).
But here’s three of my favorite encouragements to take seriously having a character of goodness:
Goodness is doing what is right and just. Goodness is how love is expressed. Goodness results in generosity. When goodness is present in us, we will respond with empathy to the wounded, neglected, or marginalized. Goodness is itself a power that resists fear and offers grace. Goodness always puts people first over cultural or institutional pressures that are demeaning to folks. Goodness embraces truth as it seeks it and refuses to put a spin on things. Goodness seeks to empower others.
Goodness is at the heart of who Jesus is. After all, he is our good shepherd (John 10:11 and 14). Jesus embodied all that’s in the paragraph above.
A church that has a powerful culture of good will reach lost people! (Matthew 5:14-16). Goodness draws people. If you are good to your “one,” that person you are praying for and want to engage, your “one” will notice your goodness. “Never tire of doing what is good.”
We are in a series called “This is the Way.” The “way” that we are focusing on are some of the ways, practices, and rhythms of Jesus that kept him connected to God, which allowed him to obey God, even when it was hard.
But what about those times when we carve out time to focus on God, seek Him, and pray passionately but can’t seem to sense his presence? How do we navigate those times when God seems silent, distant, or even absent? What happens when we practice the ways of Jesus to connect with God, but it seems like God isn’t responding?
At the beginning of the month, I listened to the horrific story of a pastor whom I deeply respect and admire. He went through a devastating betrayal at his previous church that deeply wounded him. It sent him into a season of deep depression that caused his health to deteriorate. The season was painful and awful and lasted over two years. As he told his story, he couldn’t keep back the tears, and neither could I.
Even though he begged God constantly for relief and healing, God didn’t seem to answer. Then my friend said these words: God’s silence is not a sign of God’s absence. I need to be reminded of that. Maybe you do too.
That truth doesn’t change how frustrating it is when day after day, night after night, we plead with God for an answer, an insight, or relief, and all we get is silence.
There’s no doubt that the silence of God makes the suffering more acute. But suffering isn’t time wasted. Reflect on that! God does his best work in us in our suffering. The Bible is so clear about that over and over. For example:
Romans 5:3-5 – We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
1 Peter 5:10-11 – In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. All power to him forever! Amen.
James 1:2-4 – Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
The silence of God is not an indication that God doesn’t care, or can’t or won’t change things. Rather, his silence is part of his greater work of grace to transform us in ways that a peaceful, happy, chaos-free life will never be able to do. Faith is trust that even in God’s silence, he is working out something better for us than the pain and suffering we experience in the moment. And yes, faith is a mystery.
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
I was reading an article by Colin Smith where he made a simple point from an unusual story in scripture. The point is that God notices. The story was of a poorly treated Egyptian servant named Hagar.
The story is found in Genesis 16. God had promised Abraham and Sarah they would have a huge family. But Sarai (before God changed her name) was without a child, so Sarai gave her servant Hagar to Abraham, and she bore him a son – Ishmael. That starts an ugly rivalry between the women, and their marriage becomes dysfunctional. All of this was predictable. Pain, hurt, jealousy, and broken relationships are inevitable when you or I refuse to trust God and then take things into our own hands.
In jealousy, Sarai mistreats the pregnant Hagar so badly that the servant flees to the desert. Abraham didn’t protect her. She’s alone, abused, afraid, and in danger. It’s in this condition that an angel of God finds her and tells her to go back to her mistress, which was the right thing to do. It is back “home” where she bore a son who was given the name Ishmael.
But there is one verse that most of us miss when reading this story. It is Genesis 16:13 where Hagar says to the angel: You are the God who sees me, for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” God saw her in her greatest need. God saw her when no one else saw her. God noticed her when others had rejected her. God had mercy on her when others abused her. God went looking for her when others had given up on her.
God sees us. He notices when we are struggling and in pain. He notices us when we are being tempted and giving into temptation. He has compassion on us in our suffering, and he hears. And God will direct us to do the right thing if we’ll seek him and listen.
All this is summed up in the name of the baby boy born to Hagar – Ishmael. The name Ishmael means “God hears.” God hears! That’s the only hope in this whole story. The story of Hagar and Ishmael doesn’t have a storybook ending where everyone lives happily ever after! But in the next chapter (17:20), God promises that he has heard Abraham. We don’t know what Abraham specifically asked for, but God promises to bless Ishmael, who will have a large family.
God hears! Even when the circumstances look bleak, he hears us. Even when God feels far away, he hears us. Even when we are upset or angry at God, he notices. God is with us. God is for us. That’s all we truly need to know. That’s the basis of faith.
Everything in our physical world can be shaken. Nothing is stable. Our health can deteriorate – virus or no virus. Our bank accounts and the stock market are never stable. Our jobs are never secure. Even relationships change… sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse. We live in a world that not only can be shaken; it will be shaken. Who would have guessed in January that our world would be so shaken by a new virus pandemic?
This week, I was reading Hebrews chapter 10 for a message I’m teaching this Sunday. I kept reading and came to chapter 12. The writer of Hebrews 12:18-29 reminds us of the time that God descended on Mt. Sinai in the desert. It was there that God gave the law to Moses. There were flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. A dark cloud hovered above. The whole mountain shook and it caused everyone to be terrified.
Mt. Sinai is a real place, but it is also a symbol. It’s a metaphor for the law. The law reminds us of our guilt, sin, and punishment. It is a mountain of doom. It helps us realize how much we long for a different mountain.
The writer then contrasts Mt. Sinai with another mountain that he calls Mt. Zion (vs. 22). This is a mountain of joy. This mountain is a symbol of the grace God has given us in Jesus. In Jesus, we have the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of an eternity with God. It too is a metaphor about something much bigger. It represents the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is anywhere God has influence! You and I are a part of this kingdom as long as we allow God to be the primary influence in our life.
God will shake the earth once more. At the end of time, he will remove all that is temporary, impermanent, and passing and create a new heaven and new earth. God will forever establish eternity that will never be shaken. It is an unshakeable life where our well being and very life will be permanent, lasting, and secure.
I love how chapter 12 ends in Hebrews 12:28-29 (The Message) – Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!
In this life that’s shakeable, God is “cleaning house.” In this season of unprecedented disruption, God wants to refine us and remove the “junk” that hurts us, others, and our relationship with God. Our God is a consuming fire who wants to eliminate all the useless things that need to be burned away. Yet, we are not afraid, because we belong to a kingdom that cannot be shaken. That causes us to overflow with thanksgiving in the midst of an unstable world. We are in awe of a God who is not an “indifferent bystander,” but who is working all things for good for those who love and trust him.
This last weekend I (Michael Goodwin) had the privilege of preaching on the question – Is Jesus God? I discussed how different religions view Jesus and then shared what Jesus actually said about himself. Jesus claimed to be God, and that was clearly acknowledged and understood within the culture of his day (you can watch the message here). They wanted to kill him for what they considered blasphemy. They eventually arrested him, put him on trial, and crucified him. Jesus died. He willingly offered his life as a sacrifice, and we shouldn’t forget that the cross is a cruel way to die. The cross is now viewed as a religious symbol, but it first existed as an instrument of pain, torture, and death. That’s sobering.
I think it’s only fair that we acknowledge that while Jesus claimed to be God, he was also crucified. That can seem odd because God is not obligated to submit to physical death. Author Mark Clark, in his book The Problem of God, states that historian Robert Wright says “throughout history, gods have been beings to whom you made sacrifices. Now here was God that not only demanded no ritual sacrifice from you but himself made sacrifices – indeed the ultimate sacrifice – for you.” Robert Wright is an atheist, but even he sees the radical contrast of Jesus’s sacrifice, as God, when compared to other religions. The crucifixion is only half of the story, and it is vital that we focus on the resurrection.
In my opinion, the resurrection is the most compelling piece of evidence we have that proves that Jesus was God. There were so many witnesses of him appearing after the resurrection that it’s hard to dismiss. One interesting observation is that within the culture of Jesus’s day, women didn’t have a legitimate voice. Their testimony wasn’t even valid in court. Society had assigned them a depressed and diminished status. Yet, guess who were the first people to declare that Jesus was alive? Yup, it was women, and the authors of the gospels tell us this even though testimony from women wasn’t respected. They told us because that’s the way it actually happened. God doesn’t play by our rules, and he wanted women to be the first to declare that he was alive. I love that about God.
There will always be skeptics about the resurrection. But, here’s the deal. The Bible is an actual reliable historical record, and too many people saw Jesus appear, heard him speak, and actually touched him. Besides, if you dismiss the resurrection, how in the world do you explain the explosive growth of the early church? Dead men don’t lead movements… but a resurrected one can. Why were so many of his followers willing to die for him? Think about that for a second. They were willing to die for him instead of just denouncing him when they were persecuted. People aren’t usually willing to do that for someone who is dead.
People typically default to self-preservation, but his disciples were rocked by the fact they had seen Him alive, and He had promised them eternal life for believing in Him. Now they were living for eternal purposes and not temporal ones. They were no longer afraid of death, torture, false accusations, and persecution. They lived the rest of their days on mission. If you doubt that happened, then you will have a difficult time explaining the worldwide existence of Christianity today. The message about Jesus spread like wildfire. Oh… and it’s still spreading… like wildfire.
I have news for you. Jesus is still alive, and that news should rock you. In Revelation 1:18, Jesus says, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades”. If the early church was so willing to suffer because they knew that death had been conquered and eternity was waiting shouldn’t that be an example for us? I know too many things compete for our attention and our affections. But too many things are just temporary. There is a way to live for eternal things where moth can’t destroy, and thieves can break in and steal it. Jesus told us so, and then He goes on to explain that if you want to find your life, you have to lose it for His sake. There is an invitation to live for eternal things, and I believe that path is paved with surrender. What is it you need to surrender today?
Jesus claimed to be God, He proved it, and that is WORTHY of our response!
Global Outreach Pastor
We began our new series I Got Questions by looking at the conflict between science and faith in God. My challenge Sunday was to choose both faith in God and science. Scientists who have only trusted or have faith in science, need to be honest and admit that science is limited. It can’t answer all the questions as our human intellect and wisdom has limits. Those who have faith in the Bible also have to admit that the Bible was not written to answer all our questions about the natural world. Both have something significant to offer.
Pastor Andy Stanley has it right when he reminds us that the Bible is not a science book, and science isn’t the Bible. They both have a place in helping us understand ourselves, this world and the supernatural world.
Here are some of the limitations of science. The theory of evolution (note it is a theory) has very little evidence that shows consistent slow transitional forms in fossil records. If evolution was the complete explanation of how animals and man came to be, then we should have a ton more evidence of animals that evolved over time. The fact is the evidence shows that we have more fossil records of animals that appeared all at once and were fully formed. The honesty is that there are holes in the evolutionary theory. Scientific evolution doesn’t give a compelling explanation of how life began!
Evolution can’t answer how cognitive development happens. How did we learn to think, speak, and create as we do? A question that some honest scientists ask is this: Can they trust their ability to know the truth (including there is no God) if human minds developed from lower animals?
Science tends to believe that our world is a closed system and that nothing can ever occur out of the normal laws of that system (Newtonian physics). But that doesn’t mean that God, who is bigger than and outside of our system, can’t intervene on occasion and do things differently. Scientists have been discovering that our world is not as regular and predictable as we once believed. Hence the rise of quantum mechanics and more.
I believe that God created the laws of nature or physics. They make life work. They also help us see when there is a miracle or an exception to the standard way of life. When the natural order is disturbed, it points us to a God who is intervening into our world. God wants life to be regular and consistent because that is what is good for us. I’m grateful that every day, the law of gravity consistently works. But at times, God chooses to break in and uniquely alter things to remind us that he is God. I love how John said it in John 20:30-31 – Jesus performed many other signs [miracles] in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. The miracles were signs pointing us to the fact that Jesus was not just a man but God himself who entered our life and world. Science gives us enormous understanding that makes for a richer and better life. But Jesus is the one who actually gives us life.