The Kingdom of God is . . .

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Sometimes when I’m reading the Bible the Holy Spirit will point His finger at a phrase like a divine highlighter. That signals me to start to dig and I always discover an unexpected treasure. This morning it was a single word. I was reading in the parables of Jesus in Matthew 20 and the Lord said, “For the kingdom of heaven is like . . .” Is. Not will be. Is. There is a theological principle called “the now and the not yet” and refers generally to prophesy. The idea is like looking at a mountain range from a distance. Some mountains are nearer and some are farther away, but they all appear to be the same from a remote vantage point. It’s only when you draw nearer that you see the difference.

Jesus taught a great deal about the Kingdom of God and Matthew recorded the phrase thirty-one times in his gospel. Five of those mentions have a future focus.  But get this: twenty-five times Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God as a present reality – as a Kingdom that “has come” or “is.” Not just something to look forward to “someday,”  but something that exists, something we can experience and live within now.  How could that be? Because Jesus is the Kingdom of God. When He drew His first breath in the musty stable, the Kingdom of God was present in the world. Okay, but Jesus is not here on earth anymore. But His Spirit is. Jesus said [the Spirit] lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). You and I, as believers in Christ Jesus, as His followers and friends, bring the Kingdom of God to the world in our generation through the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Kingdom of God is here and now – in you and in me. Wherever we go we take the Kingdom of God with us. Whatever we do we involve the Kingdom of God in it. Oh, that ought to give us a sober pause.

It also ought to give us a sense of purpose. Because we bear the Kingdom of God, we can bring the peace and love of God into this hurting and angry world. We can bring the gospel to the lost. We can bring hope to the hopeless. His rule and reign is here and now in us. The Kingdom of God is like . . . you, Beloved.

Jesus

“. . .the One and Only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth”  John 1:14b

Who is this Jesus?

Matthew said He is “God with us” – “Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23).  For thirty-three years He was “God-in-the-flesh with us,” walking among His people, touching them with hands they could feel, speaking words their ears could hear.  Yet He was very much God, performing miracles and speaking with divine authority.  Twice Matthew reports a voice from heaven saying, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him, I am well pleased” (3:17; 17:5).

Mark expands the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, showing His uncommon power to heal, raise the dead,  give sight to the blind,  multiply a few loaves and fishes, calm the raging sea, and drive out demons who recognized Him as “the Holy One of God” (1:24).  He also shows Him to be a King who endured uncommon suffering to rescue His people from the sentence of death.

Luke revealed Jesus as the salvation of all people (2:32).  He wrote to give an ordered account of Jesus from reliable eye-witness testimonies.  Luke offers the most detailed version of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, and tradition holds that these were Mary’s own memories.   How incredible that we have the testimony of Jesus’ Father, and the recollections of His mother to confirm that this Jesus was fully God and fully man.

From his opening testimony – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1) – John most powerfully proved Jesus as the Son of God, the One and Only, divine in nature and one with His Father.  John records Jesus’ “I AM” statements, a direct connection to God’s own self-revelation (Exodus 3:14). He recorded Jesus’ statement:  “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9).  John also devotes half of his gospel to Jesus’ final week, His death, burial, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances. (John 12-21).

Paul said that He is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and the writer of Hebrews said “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being’ (Hebrews 1:3).  Jesus. “God with us.” “The Son of God.” “The Salvation of God.” “The Word of God” “One with the Father.” “The image of God.” “The radiance of God.” “The exact representation of God.” And that barely scratches the surface. Jesus is . . . everything. Beloved, what more do you need to believe?

Hebrews: Jesus, Man of Sorrows

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I’ve been told I am a “strong” person. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I appear strong because I do a pretty good job of hiding when I am falling apart, although some of you have learned to read between the lines. Like you, I have cried and yelled and begged God to change certain things in my life. Like you, I have struggled with depression and anxiety and despair.  But you and I are in good company.  Even the strongest person in human history came under the weight of emotional affliction.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death . . .” (Hebrews 5:7). If you didn’t know who Jesus was, you would probably think that this guy went into whatever he was facing kicking and screaming all the way. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Luke said, “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (9:51). Jesus walked toward the cross with determination. But the Scriptures are clear that it was a terrible strain on Him.

Of course, you know that this verse is speaking of His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest. Jesus was “very sorrowful and troubled,” even “to the point of death” (Matt. 26:37, 38). He said, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (John 12:27). Luke said His anguish as He prayed produced “sweat like drops of blood falling to the ground” (22:44).  He pleaded, Abba, Father, everything is possible for you Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). I’ve prayed much the same thing, and I am sure you have as well.  The difference is, you and I bear much smaller burdens compared to Jesus, who was feeling the weight of the sin of the entire human race being piled on His shoulders. Isaiah called Him “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). So when the author of Hebrews says that Jesus, our great high priest can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (4:15). it is because He also felt the weight of despair. It was one of the most “human” moments in Jesus’ life.

I’m going to leave you right here, Beloved, in the Garden with Jesus, watching Him cry to His Father. But know that He was not lost to despair, nor are you and I. When we return to Hebrews, we will see that this very human moment is also a moment of divine glory.

Hebrews: How Can Jesus Understand My Temptation?

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I have a hard time taking advice from perfect people. That’s one thing you’ll never have to worry about with me. I am pretty transparent about my life, my past, my struggles, and my failures – perhaps a little too transparent – but there’s a reason. I believe that if you know I have been through a struggle similar to yours, you are more likely to trust me to help.

The Bible says we have a great high priest who can help us because He understands us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). But, wait just a minute. Jesus was perfect and sinless. How can He know how I feel? Indeed – Jesus was perfectly sinless, He never failed a single time—but he was certainly pressed by temptation. Glance back at Hebrews 2:17: “[Jesus] had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest . . .” Jesus was made like us – human flesh and bones, heart and lungs that kept Him alive just like yours. He got hungry and tired just like me. He had to walk on feet just like His disciples. He had normal bodily functions. He had emotions – anger, joy, and sadness. And He felt the weight of temptation. Remember the desert and the devil? Let’s join them in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11).

Temptation #1 – “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Have you ever been tempted to satisfy the needs and desires of your flesh in your own way? Ever heard of porn? Ever been tempted to steal?

Temptation #2 – “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” If you are, He will send His angels to save you from harm. It was the same question that set off the first sin and satan has been using it ever since: Can you trust God?

Temptation #3 – “I will give you [the kingdoms of this world] if you will bow down and worship me.” Ever wanted more than what you’ve got? Ever entertained less-than-honest ways to get it?

Jesus understands the weight of the temptations we face because He was human just as you and I are and those temptations pressed Him even harder than they do you and me. He gave us the perfect model to handle temptation. We’ll talk about that next time.  

Stormy Seas

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Brave, confident Peter stood up and stepped out of the safety of the boat and onto the liquid surface of the lake – and the water held him up! That is until he looked around to see if what he thought was happening really was. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:30). The laws of nature overrode his faith in Jesus. 

Peter knew Jesus – he had heard His authoritative teaching and had witnessed and participated in His miracles.  But in a moment, all he knew about Jesus sank into the waves with him.  He was overcome with fear.  Can you relate? Sometimes we seem to be doing good – walking along in our faith with our heads held high.  Then something happens – a crisis hits, the bottom falls out, and suddenly we are sinking and crying out for help.

I have walked with Jesus for almost 50 years and there have been many ups and downs, some pretty awesome highs and some very deep lows.  I wish I could say that I’ve always been a model of unwavering faith – but that would be a lie.  What I can say is that every trial has built my faith by degrees.  We’ve been through some very stormy seas the past three years.  At times, it all looked very dire, and we were sinking fast.  All I could do was cry out, “Lord save us!”  And He did. 

Here’s what I know – and what I want you to know.  God’s hand was in Peter’s stormy sea – and ours.  He stirred up the wind and the waves that rocked our boat and tossed us into the water. Why would He do that?  Because His was the hand that would reach out to rescue us.  Because I needed to know the power of His saving grace and the depth of His everlasting love.  And so do you.  You need to know that when all seems lost, God will rescue you.  When you think you’re about to drown, God will pull you up.  Your storm is real – but so is God.  Start looking for His hand over the waves.

Life Lessons

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I hate to shake whatever fine image you have of me, but I’m not a model of wisdom. I tend to learn life lessons the hard way. My Mom used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons,” and I have paid a high price for many lessons. Still am. Mom’s words remind me of a couple of lessons from Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”

Lesson #1: When I disregard the Word of God I will wind up in trouble. The Bible is full of wisdom for life. It is written by our Creator, who knows best how life should work, and we are wise to read and study it and put its principles and teachings into action. Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. He said the wise man built his house on the rock and the foolish man built on the sand. He was talking about obedience to His Word. While a house and a life built on sand can be brought down by the wind and rain, no storm could destroy the house built on the rock, and no storm can destroy the person who builds their life on knowing and obeying the Word of God.

Lesson #2: It’s not over just because I messed up. Aren’t you glad that our merciful and gracious God gives multiple second chances? The mistakes we make, our failures, and our missteps are not the end. God doesn’t write us off, wash His hands of us or give up on us because we stumble. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful, and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the muck of my own choices. Jesus died so you can be forgiven, so you could have a second chance at life. Do you really believe that He would give up on you so quickly?

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, touched something that left you in pain? Take heart, Beloved, God has not given up on you. Lay it all before your loving Heavenly Father. Then take that hard-won wisdom and start walking in the right direction.

I don’t hear your words, I hear your heart

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I have hundreds of verses marked in my Bible, but two have very special significance to me.  Isaiah 51:16 says “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand.” God pricked my heart years ago through that verse and I asked Him to put His words in my mouth and let me be His spokesman. I used that exact word. The very next day I read, “If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman” (Jeremiah 15:19).  The connection was a clear as day to me.  I remembered hearing about ancient Scribes who copied the words of Scripture and every time they wrote the name of God they would use a brand new pen to write that one word and break it immediately afterward so that the pen that wrote the holy name could never be used to write anything profane.  If I wanted to fulfill my calling, my words – my mouth – would have to radically change. I thought, “okay, I can do this – I will diligently watch what I say.” Then something made me angry. And someone said something I didn’t appreciate. And my boss asked me to do something I didn’t want to do. And you know what – I didn’t say a “worthless word.” But I sure thought them. In my mind and heart I was spouting off left and right. That’s because my tongue wasn’t the real problem – my heart was. Jesus said: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34) I didn’t need to watch my mouth, I needed to watch my heart.

Have you ever noticed how many celebrities and politicians have to hastily take down tweets or backpedal comments trying to soften their words?  Sure, most of them have speechwriters and handlers who prepare well-worded messages for them, but they always seem to get in trouble over words said (or tweeted) in unguarded moments.  Because those words were coming straight from their heart. You and I are the same, just without all the publicity. The words we speak, especially when we are not “in control,” reveal the true condition of our hearts. It’s so much deeper than the words we speak. Beloved, what do your words – spoken, posted, or thought – say about your heart?

Salty Christians

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I’m studying in Matthew 5, and Jesus is speaking about being salt in the world. He said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (5:13). That caught my attention. “How does salt lose its saltiness?” I wanted to know the practicality of Jesus’ statement so I went searching for a “scientific” answer, not just a “biblical” answer. I learned that

  1. Natural salt without additives won’t ever go bad. But when it is refined for cooking iodine and anti-caking agents are added to it; these degrade over time, reducing the life and effectiveness of the salt.
  2. When Sodium chloride is exposed to moisture it breaks down and eventually evaporates.  In New Testament times salt was generally not pure and contained many compounds that held up to moisture. The sodium chloride would evaporate, but the other compounds remained, leaving behind a white powdery substance that looked like salt but had none of its flavor.

So what was Jesus saying? Salt is our witness in the world – and two things will render our witness ineffective: adding things to it that do not agree with the truth and taking away from the truth leaving a witness that has no saving power.

Jesus said this false “salt” is “thrown out and trampled on by men.” This perfectly describes the witness of the church today where political correctness is added and the truth is watered down to make it culturally appropriate. We no longer tell people they sinners and the blood of Christ can save them. Instead, we tell them that God wants them to live their best life now, to be comfortable in their sin, and to practice social justice. We have exactly what Jesus was describing: a worthless witness. Is it any wonder that the world holds the testimony of the church in contempt and tramples all over it?

Beloved, is your witness pure and true? Do you need to take away some additives and bring your conviction back to its natural state? The world has enough fake seasoning – they need the real thing. Be salty in this generation.

The Real Jesus

Matthew is one of only two gospel writers to mention the birth narrative.  He wrote to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah of old.  He included details that were pregnant with Jewish prophecy. Luke wrote his gospel account via careful investigation and eyewitness testimonies (Luke 1:1-4). Church tradition maintains that the story of the nativity in Luke came directly from Mary’s remembrances, which is why his gospel is rich with the details of the event. Mothers remember everything about their children’s birth. It’s interesting to me that Luke, writing from Mary’s perspective wrote about lowly shepherds who visited the holy family in the mean stable, while Matthew wrote about wise men – probably wealthy Persian kings – who followed the star to worship the then-toddler.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew reaches back to Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, and identified David, the chosen king of Israel. Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus’ lineage back to “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:37). Matthew wanted to show Jesus as the rightful King of the Jews.  Luke wanted to show Him as the God-Man, who lived and died in humility among humanity. So was Jesus a King or a common man? Yes and yes. To have a full understanding of Him, we must see Him as both. And as more.

He is the Baby in the manger. He is the itinerant preacher. He is the dead man on the cross. He is the risen Lord. He is the Son of God, seated at the Father’s right hand. He is the Redeemer of the world. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the one who is, was, and is to come. He is part of the Triune Godhead. He is the soon-coming King. He is the Victor who crushed Satan’s head. And He is my Savior. Is He yours?

What’s your favorite verse? Do you know what it means?

Gloria Preciado sur Twitter : "Deuteronomy 32:47 These instructions are not  empty words--they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life  in the land you will occupy when

There are many Bible verses that we’ve come to know and love. We mark them in our Bible and post them on our desk or fridge. That’s a good thing. They are also big business for the Christian marketing industry with Scriptures sold as wall art, purses, teapots, decorative pillows, and doormats.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all for surrounding ourselves with God’s Word. But do we really know these verses?  What good are they if we just leave them on the wall?

One that I see often is Psalm 19:14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer.”   Psalm 19 is a song of praise. David says the heavens “declare the glory of God” (v. 1) – this is “general revelation.” It’s what Paul was referring to when he said “what may be known about God is plain . . . because God has made it plain. God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen . . . so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20). David then moves to “special revelation” – God’s Word – which is “perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, enduring, sure, righteous, precious, and sweet” (19:7-11). Now that we know more about God, verses 9-14 are our response to this amazing revelation – turning from sin and living to please the Lord.

When David says, “May the words of my mouth . . .” he is speaking of the evidence of his faith. Jesus said, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). Your words reveal the state of your heart – the place where your faith lives. Ugly, bitter, vile, profane words reveal an ugly, bitter, vile, profane heart. Kind, gracious, loving, gentle words reveal a Christlike heart. “The meditation of my heart” is my private thoughts – it’s what I choose to think about. I don’t know about you but this verse has become very convicting now.

When we know God, our response should be to please Him, on the inside and the outside. Here’s my challenge to you today, Beloved: Take your favorite verse and dig a little deeper. Read around it, chew on it, take it apart and examine the pieces, then put it back together. It will mean more to you than ever before.