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This is the seventh lesson on the Book of James in our series, "Living Wisely in Turbulent Times." In this lesson we discuss James 1:22-27. In particular, we take a look at how we can deceive ourselves by going through the motions of empty or useless religion instead of enjoying the fruitful and flourishing life God intends through both the hearing and doing of his Word. Please enjoy this week's lesson and then make sure to share it with a friend.
Romans 1:21 - For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Much has been made over the last few years regarding the emergence of militant atheism’s evangelistic crusade to rid the world of ignorance. Specifically, these crusaders want to enlighten the minds of the masses who still believe God exists. For these spokesmen for atheism, belief in God is intellectually unsustainable and should by all means be abandoned. Not only that, these atheistic evangelists believe a person’s commitment to belief in God is actually harmful to children as well as to civilization as a whole.
Thankfully, their charges have been sufficiently answered at every turn by faithful Christian apologists. The atheists are getting all the press, but their arguments are unable to stand up to the Light of Truth.
A More Dangerous Breed of Atheism
Yet there is a more prevalent form of atheism that lurks in our land. Indeed, it can even be found in the church. It is what Cornelius Van Til called, “practical atheism.” A practical atheist is a person who professes to believe in God, and yet the God whose existence is professed does not seem to make any meaningful difference in that person’s daily life. His beliefs, values, morals, and actions are not prioritized by his supposed belief in God’s existence. Put another way: If this person was to wake up one day and decide he no longer believed in the existence of God, his life would change very little. This is practical atheism.
In Romans 1:21, Paul describes the person who has suppressed the truth he knows about God. Paul says that, in truth, all people know God exists. In fact, they even know things about his power and majesty. Yet, in order to maintain a certain way of living, they alter their belief system to accommodate their lifestyle. Like the hard atheist who formally declares there is no God, practical atheists deny God by the way in which they live their lives. Paul teaches us that “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…”
God at the Center
We glorify God when we seek to live purposefully and intentionally for him each day. We glorify God when we live to please, honor, obey, love, represent, bear witness to, and imitate him. That’s what a God-glorifying, God-informed life looks like. It’s also a life that is grateful to God for his goodness. This is more than tossing out a “thank you” every now and then at the beginning of a meal. Instead, it’s more of an all-encompassing attitude of gratitude. It becomes pervasive in one’s personality. This attitude glorifies God because it exalts God as the One who is worthy of such affection and appreciation.
How are you doing with this? Are you seeking to glorify God and be thankful to him in all things? Of course, none of us is perfect at this. We can all get fairly self-absorbed and self-centered in the goings on of our lives. We all, from time to time, become too preoccupied with lesser interests.
Yet the One who should be our greatest interest has told us we are to have no other gods before him. We are called to seek him first and foremost. We are instructed and encouraged to be holy because God is holy. His existence, in other words, should play a profound role in the lives of those who profess to believe in and follow him. He should be our ultimate influence and his influence should saturate every sphere of our lives, for his glory and our good.
Heavenly Father, the whole of creation testifies to your existence. It’s truly amazing what we have to go through to deny that you are there and are not silent. And yet, you are the God who is not to be merely believed in. Instead, you are the Triune, personal God who calls us into a relationship with yourself. You first loved us, not because we were so good, but because you are. You are our loving Father who is worthy of our love and devotion. Indeed, to know and love you is to seek to become increasingly like you and obey your commands. In my own strength I will fall short of this. Therefore, loving Father, I humbly ask you to please fill me with your Holy Spirit and spur me on to greater and greater love for you. And, I pray, this love for you will influence every sphere of my life so that, one day, my whole life will be a shining testimony of your glory. In Christ I pray. Amen.
Ping Pong Champ
I was quite the ping pong player when I was in high school. I was really good. I held many tournaments in my garage, most of which I won. You would have been impressed with my ping pong prowess. I certainly was.
And that’s why I signed up for the big Ping Pong Tournament for incoming freshman during my first week of college. I thought the least I could do was put my skill on display to impress everyone.
I got beat 21-8 in the first round.
“Those who exalt themselves will be humbled.”
On a more significant note, this Thursday, October 31st, will be the 502nd anniversary of the birth of the Protestant Reformation. 502 years ago, an obscure German theology professor and former monk, wanted to talk about some concerns he had with the Roman Church, to which he belonged.
And so, he did what was often done, he wrote his concerns down on paper and nailed them to the church door for folks to read. It was sort of a modern-day bulletin board.
And boy did people read it! In fact, some folks took Martin Luther’s 95 theses to the local printing press and printed many copies for others to read as well. What should’ve been an ordinary exchange of ideas ended up turning much of the world upside down. Sort of like Facebook.
Among Luther’s concerns was this question: How can a person be made right with God?
He wanted to know how a sinful person could be made righteous before a holy God. Was the answer good works? That is, if you did enough good works, could you earn your way into heaven? Or was it something else? Luther wanted to discuss it.
That’s the very question Jesus addresses in our Scripture: How can we be right with God, or put in a right relationship with God?
A Tale of Two Men
Two men went to the temple to pray: One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisees were well known for their “strong commitment” to keeping God’s Law. They were experts in the Law and very disciplined in how they lived.
Tax collectors on the other hand, were considered traitors by the Jews. They worked for the Roman government. That, and their “excessive profits,” created a lot of hostility between them and most of the Jewish population.
Therefore, Jesus tells his audience, many of whom would’ve been Pharisees, a parable.
Luke even tells us why Jesus told it. Take a look at verse 9…
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:
Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees for their showy piety. He accused them of hypocrisy - doing all the right things on the outside but having the wrong motivation on the inside. According to Jesus, they didn’t obey out of a desire to glorify God but to look good to others.
Both men go the temple to pray. But that’s where the similarity ends. What did the Pharisee say in his prayer?
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
He addresses God, and then makes the prayer all about himself. Four times he says, “I.” I do this. I do that. Just look God at all I do.
No humility. Just self-exaltation (like a certain freshman ping pong player). No dependence on God, just self.
In my Sunday School class we’ve just started working through the Beatitudes, which are in the first 12 verses of The Sermon on the Mount. The first three Beatitudes focus on this issue of our posture or attitude before God. Read what Jesus says in these verses…
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
The poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek, all focus on acknowledging our spiritual poverty before God. Why? So that we’ll fully depend on God’s grace, and not ourselves.
The Pharisee showed God his spiritual resume. It was all about him - his holiness, his efforts, and how glad he was that he wasn’t like those “sinners” out there. There was no sign of grieving over his own spiritual poverty which brings humility of spirit and complete dependence upon God.
You’re not likely to cry out for mercy and grace when you’re so full of yourself. Jesus hammered this point home to the Pharisees, and all his listeners, again, and again, and again.
Some of our youth are going through confirmation right now and will be confirmed in a couple of weeks. And one of the theological ideas they’re learning about is grace. Every confirmand learns that grace is, God’s unearned and undeserved favor and blessing.
Those who are spiritually broken, heart-broken over it, and humbled by it are called blessed by Jesus. They are the ones who understand their need of God’s unearned and undeserved favor and blessing. It wouldn’t even occur to them to try to show God how good they are.
The Sinner’s Prayer
We find that very attitude in the heart of the tax collector. There was no pretense that he was righteous. He knew himself. He knew the God he addressed in prayer. Even his physical posture showed remorse before God. Look what the text says…
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast…
This is the posture and attitude of true repentance in the Old Testament. Jesus knew his hearers would know that. And then the tax collector cried out with what we might call the original “sinners’ prayer.” He prayed, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
This is the prayer of a person who is spiritually broken, heart-broken over it, and humbled by it.
It’s at that point Jesus says these important words…
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
What a role-reversal! The Pharisees in his audience must have been fuming. Others must’ve been confused. Still others must’ve been celebrating, because they saw themselves in the tax collector.
All About Jesus
Martin Luther wanted to know how a person could be justified, that is, how a person could be made right with God (brought into a right relationship with God). Jesus knew, even as he told this parable, that he came to save sinners. He knew the Cross awaited him, but also his Resurrection.
On this side of the Cross and Empty Tomb we cry out to God by placing our faith in Jesus. By depending on and trusting in his work on our behalf, and not our own righteousness. When we do, we too will be made right with God.
Jesus tells us the way up, is down. That those who are spiritually broken and mourn over their sin are blessed. That those who humble themselves will be exalted.
It’s all about the attitude of your heart. It’s about being God-dependent and not self-dependent. But more than that, to be right with God requires we cry out to God in faith - for his mercy and grace offered to us through his Son. And when we do, then we can know that 1 John 1:9 will be true of us…
9 If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Just as God did with the tax collector.
And what’s true of the tax collector can be true of each one of us as well. If you’ve never cried out to God before, then he’s calling you to do so, to reach out to him in faith, to put your trust in Jesus Christ. And to do so today.
And if you already have, then he’s calling you to remember to walk by that same faith, each and every day.
Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy. Amen.
This is Lesson 6 in our series in James called, "Living Wisely in Turbulent Times." In this lesson, David and I discuss the differences between righteous and unrighteous anger, and how we can tell the difference in our own lives. This is a very timely topic and God's Word has a lot to say about it.
(originally written 2015, but seems timely for the present)
Remembering Our Mission
On the very first page of our United Methodist Book of Discipline, we are reminded of the mission of the United Methodist Church. Our stated mission is,
To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
That’s why we’re here. Our ultimate purpose is to glorify God and we do so by making disciples of his Son who will change the world with his Gospel.
Once again, I love the way our Discipline puts it. It says,
The local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs. It is a community of true believers under the Lordship of Christ. It is the redemptive fellowship in which the Word of God is preached by persons divinely called and the sacraments are duly administered according to Christ’s own appointment. Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit, the church exists for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers, and the redemption of the world.
I love that mission and the language used to express it.
The World’s Desperate Need
Who could argue that our world is presently in serious need of redemption? In China, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and certainly in our country – just to name a few – we find overwhelming sin, devastation, unrest, brokenness, war, death, and more. The fallen, sinful, broken human condition is on display for all to see.
If ever the world needed faithful disciples of Jesus Christ to bring redemption, it’s now.
Yet it’s not just “over there,” is it? It’s here in our own backyard. The need is in our own lives, our families, our workplaces, and our local communities. Every sphere of our lives needs the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s why we’re called to make faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
I want to briefly share two stories. The first is about an incredibly small and seemingly insignificant group of people who began turning the greatest empire in the world (at that time) upside down with nothing more than the Gospel. The second story takes place about 1,700 years later. It involves another small group of people who, armed only with that same Gospel, helped turn England upside down (or better, right-side up).
Our first story begins with the Apostle Paul and his companions, who had just come from Philippi. In fact, they had just been released from prison and had been escorted out of the city by the officials. Their next stop was going to be Thessalonica, which was about 100 miles away. On their way there, they passed through a couple of cities, Amphipolis and Apollonia, staying at each only one night before heading out the next morning.
When they arrived in Thessalonica, Paul began his usual routine of going to the local synagogue of the city. Why did he go there first? Verses 2-3 tell us,
As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said.
Paul was a Jew. His heart was for his fellow Jews. He loved them. Therefore, even though he was called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, he just couldn’t help himself. He often went first to his own people. What did he say to them? He reasoned with them. He taught and preached from the Old Testament. He used it to explain and prove that Jesus was just who he said he was, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.
Furthermore, he showed them that Christ had to suffer and die on the Cross for the sins of the world – but that Christ also had to rise from the dead for our salvation. Paul proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth was no less than the Christ – the Messiah of God.
The Gospel of the Kingdom
This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The Gospel first calls us to turn away from our own sin – our fallen, broken, and selfish thinking, desires, words, actions, and attitudes.
It also calls us to trust in Christ alone to forgive us, save us, heal us, mend us, lead us, and to make us holy. That’s the Gospel and that’s what Paul preached and taught in Thessalonica. And people responded. Take a look at verse 4,
Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.
People responded. Lives were changed. Supernaturally speaking, disciples of Jesus Christ had been born.
But, as often is the case, some folk weren’t happy about this. In fact, where the Gospel is preached and where God is doing a great work of deliverance, there will often be opposition.
We discover this as we read verse 5,
But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd.
You see, the Jews weren’t at all happy about this work of Paul and company, nor the message they proclaimed. So they got the meanest, toughest, nastiest people they could find to stir up trouble for Paul and Silas and their newest converts. Thessalonica was something of a harbor town. There were plenty of drifters in search of trouble, roaming around the marketplace. It wouldn’t have been a great effort to round up and “encourage” some of these folk to cause a little trouble for Paul and company.
And that’s exactly what they did.
But there was a problem. Paul and Silas evidently got word of this and were able to get away. And so the mob did the next best thing. They grabbed Jason and a few others. Jason was one of the converts who was hosting Paul and Silas. It seems that Jason and some of his new brothers in Christ were guilty by association.
Don’t Despise the Day of Small Beginnings
We’ve now arrived at a special part of this story. Verse 6 says,
But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here,
Read those words again: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here.”
That translation from the NIV is my least favorite. Here are a few other translations of that verse that help to capture what was being said:
These men who have upset the world have come here also; (NASB)
These people are out to destroy the world, and now they’ve shown up on our doorstep, attacking everything we hold dear! (The Message)
Here’s my favorite.
These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, (ESV and KJV)
What were they referring to? How could this little insignificant group of people do anything to the mighty Roman Empire? They weren’t even armed. Or were they?
They were indeed. They were armed with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul tells us, is the power of God for the salvation of Jews and Gentiles alike. And everywhere that disciples of Jesus Christ went throughout the Roman Empire, both Jews and Gentiles were being transformed into what was sometimes called, “a third race” of new creatures in Christ. Their lives were changing. Their values were becoming different. Their new beliefs were colliding with their old beliefs. The kingdom of this world was being turned upside down with the message and order of a new Kingdom.
Frustrated and still looking to stir up trouble, more accusations were issued. Verse 7 reveals a critical notion that even some in our own day still misunderstand.
“They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”
Do you see what their accusers were doing? The same charge that was brought against our Lord Jesus – namely treason against Caesar and the Empire – was now being leveled against Paul and his companions. They were accusing them of declaring that there was a new King, one called Jesus. They knew that was the way to get Rome’s attention.
After the city officials decided there was no good reason to hold Jason and his companions, they made Jason promise that Paul wouldn’t preach anymore. Paul probably wasn’t happy about having to leave, but he seems to have honored Jason’s promise and left for a season. Happily for those in Thessalonica, this doesn’t appear to have been Paul’s only time there.
To begin our next story, we need to fast-forward about 1,700 years. John Wesley was born on June 17, 1703, in the small town of Epworth in northeastern England. Here are just a few descriptive phrases about this England into which John Wesley was born.
England had just come out of a bloody civil war. Political tensions were high. There was extreme poverty.
Regular employment was uncertain. Housing was often inadequate and unaffordable.
Pure drinking water was scarce. Food was in short supply. Disease was rampant.
Alcohol, violence, prostitution, and gambling were popular means to escape feelings of desperation and hopelessness.
Children as young as four or five were employed as chimney sweeps or in mines and factories. Life was insecure.
(Charles Yrigoyen, John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life)
John Wesley’s Message
That was the condition of England as John Wesley began his ministry. It has some pretty remarkable similarities to our own day, doesn’t it? There’s much to mention about John Wesley’s preaching, but here’s the central idea: He preached the whole Gospel for the whole person.
He didn’t preach a truncated Gospel message that only promised heaven once you died. It included heaven, but it was more comprehensive than that. He preached a Gospel – the biblical Gospel – that changed lives in the here and now.
As people were won for Christ, Wesley made sure they were discipled. That means he encouraged them to get involved in what we would call Bible studies, small groups, and accountability groups. It would be in those settings that they would worship God, study his Word, take communion, pray for each other, and hold each other accountable for growing in holiness. As the Apostle Peter would put it, he constantly encouraged them to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Wesley gave these early Methodists “General Rules” that served to keep them moving in the right direction. These rules focused on our personal relationship and walk with Christ, both in its private and public manifestations, exercising mercy and compassion to the least among us and bearing witness to spiritually lost people.
A Transformed World
What might happen to a city where genuinely Spirit-empowered, Spirit-guided people were faithfully and regularly growing in these areas? Such transformation of these early Methodists helped turn England upside down, just as it began to do in Rome 1,700 years earlier. The Methodist movement, according to even secular historians, contributed greatly in moving England from the same sort of bloody revolution that took place in France.
But there was a cost. There’s always a cost of discipleship, which is why Jesus calls us to count the cost before we commit our lives to him.
These disciples of Jesus Christ, called Methodists, were insulted, slandered, and attacked in newspapers. And just like what happened in Thessalonica 1,700 years before, mobs even physically attacked them. They were beaten, their houses were burned down, and their property was stolen. Why? Because these Methodists were now serving another King.
What happened to these early Methodist Christians? Did they give up and return to their old ways of life? Far from it! Methodists grew in faith and numbers. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God was declared in more places with greater impact. Lives were changed. That little corner of the world called England was transformed in many ways that brought glory to God and blessed the lives of its people. What a powerful witness for Christ!
Scripture says that the early disciples turned their world upside down with the message of the Gospel and that lives were changed by it. History shows us that John Wesley and the early Methodists turned their world upside down with the message of the Gospel and that lives were changed by it.
Key Idea #1
The first key idea is this: The Gospel of the Kingdom doesn’t actually turn the world upside down. It turns it right-side up! The truth is, our fallen, sinful, broken world is already upside down. Its values, beliefs, attitudes, desires, actions –and all the rest – are contrary to those of God’s Kingdom. Jesus came to set things right – in every sphere of life.
However, that far-reaching, socially impacting, worldwide transformation that Christ calls us to must first begin in the hearts of individuals. Each of us must become new creatures in Christ who will faithfully follow him as his disciples. Only then, as we take our new life – our new worldview, values, attitudes, desires, and actions – with us, wherever we go, can we move toward transforming the world for Christ.
It starts with us as individuals. It moves to our families. It impacts our church, our workplaces, our friendships, our community, our city, our state, our country, and eventually our world. But we have to first start where we are.
Key Idea #2
As followers of Jesus Christ, and spiritual descendants of the Apostle Paul and John Wesley, this is your spiritual legacy too. You see, their stories belong to you. In fact, this is your story. Your life continues the story begun by our Lord Jesus Christ. Will you join him and continue his story?
This is Lesson 5 in our ongoing series on the Book of James. Our series is entitled, "Living Wisely in Turbulent Times." Today David and I discuss what it means to be a good listener in our communication with others and how ungodly anger can move us in the wrong direction.
A Hard Question
For eleven years I was privileged to serve on the Board of Ordained Ministry for my denomination. The responsibility of the Board is to work with people who are candidates for ordained ministry, helping them navigate their way through the long process. From assisting them in understanding God’s call in their lives to celebrating with them at their ordination, it was a rewarding experience.
Broadly speaking, the areas the Board focuses on are a candidate’s call to ministry, pastoral and leadership skills, psychological and spiritual well-being, preaching and teaching abilities, and theological soundness.
My particular position was to serve with the group that assessed the candidate’s theology. We were responsible for reading the candidate’s theological paperwork and then interviewing them in person.
One of the tough issues each candidate had to face is the topic we will look at in this devotion: The Kingdom of God? What is it? How are we to understand it?
Would you be able to answer those two questions? Correctly? It’s a hard subject, one that many Christians have not spent a great deal of time thinking about. Some candidates struggled with it as well.
The Focus of Jesus
Maybe you’re wondering why, if it is such a hard question to answer, would we ask the candidates about the Kingdom of God. That is not a hard question to answer. The reason candidates are asked about the Kingdom of God is because it was the central theme of Jesus’ ministry. Everything he preached on, did, and taught somehow related to the Kingdom of God.
Here are some examples of Jesus’ focus on the Kingdom of God in Matthew’s Gospel alone.
Matthew 13:24 – Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.
Matthew 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 13:31 – He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.
Matthew 13:33 – He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Matthew 13:44 – “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Matthew 13:47 – “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.
Jesus referred to the Kingdom over thirty times in Matthew’s Gospel alone. That certainly suggests this was an important topic for our Lord.
Jesus Begins His Ministry
Our text finds us at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Matthew 4:12 reports Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been put in prison. We do not know how long it was after Jesus heard this news, but we learn Jesus returned to Galilee.
This is key because Jesus was moving from something of a wilderness setting to a much more highly populated area. It was one in which he would be able to minister to a greater number of people. Many roads traveled to and from Galilee. Many people lived there. The opportunity to reach more people with his message would increase considerably.
Interestingly, Matthew suggested this move to Galilee was a fulfillment of a prophecy found in Isaiah 9. That’s why he wrote in Matthew 4:13-16,
Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali–  to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles–
 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
Then we read these important words in verse 17,
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
That phrase, “From that time on…” is important. Matthew highlighted that Jesus was beginning his public ministry, one that would eventually take him to the Cross.
And what’s the message of Jesus? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
You have likely heard the word “Repent.” When we hear the word, repent, we often think of being sorry for something we’ve done and then promising never to do it again. And certainly there’s an element of that here. However, in the Bible, the word means more than that. The word repent carries a couple of ideas with it.
A Change of Thinking
First it denotes changing the way a person thinks about something. Instead of thinking about something the way “the world” does, in a self-centered, rebellious sort of way, repentance means agreement with what God has said about that issue.
The Sermon on the Mount is a marvelous exposition or teaching on this very thing. Jesus teaches us the fallen world thinks one way, but he calls his followers to think another way, his way.
A Change of Life
In the Old Testament, and the way Jesus was using the word here, repent means more than a change in one’s thinking. It also means a change in one’s behavior. One commentator said by “repentance,” Jesus meant,
“A radical change of mind and heart that leads to a complete turnabout of life.” (William Hendrickson, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 197)
Again, the Sermon on the Mount is focused on what this “radical change of mind and heart and complete turnabout of life” looks like.
Jesus also seemed to stress an urgency in his call to repentance. But what’s the hurry? Why the sense of urgency to repent? Because, Jesus stressed, the kingdom of heaven is near.
What is the Kingdom of God?
What is Jesus referring to here? What is this “kingdom of heaven” that is near? The Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God, is the sovereign and gracious reign and rule of God.
Jesus doesn’t refer to the Kingdom as a place, in the sense of a geographical location. Instead, the Kingdom is God’s rule and reign. It’s wherever God’s will is being proclaimed and done. It’s wherever his influence is in effect. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, for example, in Matthew 6:10,
your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The Kingdom of God is manifested in the hearts, minds, and lives of those who have bowed their knees to the King of the Kingdom, the Lord Jesus Christ. Wherever the loyal subjects of the King serve him, there you’ll find the Kingdom advancing, being extended into every sphere of life.
The Church and the Kingdom aren’t identical, but the Church, followers of the Lord Jesus, are the primary agents who spread God’s Kingdom.
What are some examples of the Kingdom breaking into our fallen, broken, and sinful world?
The rule and reign of God, saturated in his grace, empowered by his sovereign Spirit, and directed by his will can be found wherever God’s people are at work for his sake and in his name.
United Methodists believe in God’s prevenient grace, the grace of God that goes ever before us, drawing us to Christ. We therefore hope and pray that even in those places where the name of Christ is not yet known or proclaimed, God’s prevenient grace is drawing people to the King of the Kingdom.
The Good News of the Kingdom
In verse 23, Matthew wrote, Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
What does Matthew say Jesus is preaching here? The good news of the Kingdom. The phrase “good news” is where we get our word “gospel.” The Kingdom of God ultimately cannot be understood apart from the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ.
The good news is what God has done in and through his Son to reconcile sinful, lost and broken people to himself. God sent Jesus, as his name implies, to save his people from their sin. The Kingdom cannot be properly understood apart from this.
God’s Kingdom turns all other kingdoms upside-down and not only offers salvation through Christ, but also sets patterns, attitudes, and behaviors for citizens of the Kingdom.
Already and Not Yet
The coming of Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God. Yet the Kingdom will not be fully consummated and enjoyed until Christ returns and we’re gathered to him. Theologians call this living between the “already” and the “not yet.” The Kingdom is present in our midst, and yet, it is not all it will one day be.
This “not yet” aspect of the Kingdom is perhaps why Jesus, while he was still with his disciples at the Passover meal, told them,
Luke 22:15-18 – “…I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Emphasis Added)
Part of our understanding of the Lord’s Supper includes not only looking back to what Christ did for us, but it also emphasizes looking forward, forward to that day when we’ll dine with our King at the heavenly banquet he’s graciously prepared for us.
Until then, Christ’s faithful subjects are called to live in this in-between time, representing their King and extending his Kingdom into every sphere of life.
While we're away from one another in body, we can still remain connected to our Lord as well as to one another in spirit (and on screen). Here are some resources to help you stay close to the Lord during this time of quarantine and social distancing.
Some Online Southside Studies...
Here are some studies and devotionals from three beloved mentors of mine...
And here are some other resources from Southside...
The discipline of Christian apologetics holds a place near and dear to my heart. It was one of the primary means by which God strengthened my faith and called me into ministry. Like many others, I remember having conversations in college about my Christian faith. I recall discussing the tough issues that college students love to spend time talking about. These discussions were not quite on the level of whether or not God could create a stone too heavy for him to lift (Dr. Ronald Nash would later tell me the answer to that question is, “no.”). But we did deal with some very practical questions about Christianity, especially as it relates to other belief systems. I was a very unprepared Christian college student. That realization, however, led me to read. I began reading a book on world religions and cults by Josh McDowell. I next remember buying and reading a book on a strange ”thing” called Christian apologetics by some guy I had never heard of named, Norman Geisler.
What I learned in the years that followed was that almost all I really needed for most “defenses of the faith” was a better knowledge of what I believed. This drove me to dig into God’s Word as well as systematic theology. The rest, as they say, "is history." God used the study of Christian apologetics (the defense of the Christian faith) in my life to drive me to a deeper understanding of the essential truths of the Christian faith as well as how to communicate those truths more effectively.
As a pastor, I’ve discovered over the last couple of decades that there are very few new questions. Instead, more often than not, there are the same questions asked in different ways. My mentor, Ken Boa, once told me while I was a seminary student that it’s okay to be asked a tough question by someone and not have the answer… the first time. But, he said, you should never be asked the same question twice without having an answer. In other words, being “stumped” once is virtually a rite of passage. Being stumped by the same question twice is lazy.
The first time we’re stumped by a tough question should encourage us to read and study to find the answer. What I’ve tried to do over the years is to get back together with folks who asked me the tough questions and use those opportunities to share my faith with them if they were not already a Christian, or to disciple them if they were. One of the worst things you can do is try to bluff an answer. It seldom works and I’ve learned folks respect your honesty when you say, "I don't know."
Having said all of that, I need to be clear: There are indeed some very hard questions about the Christian faith. These questions relate to evil, other religions, science, the Bible, just to name a few. By God’s grace I’ve learned there are some very bright and gifted Christian thinkers who have thought and prayed long and hard about those questions and what God’s Word has to say about them. These very capable apologists have written extensively on most, if not all of those issues, and many have some very helpful websites.
The following websites on this list are general apologetics websites. In other words, they are my favorite websites that address a little bit of everything. Make sure to check these sites out. I think you’ll find them a big help.
PS – There are many outstanding apologists who will not be found on the list below because they either do not have a website or because their site is not much more than a storefront or a calendar of where and when they will be speaking. They are being used of God in mighty ways, but the sites below are the ones I believe will be the most useful to you online.
PSS - New apologists and apologetics websites are popping up regularly. If I've left anyone off of this list, please share their information with me and I'll take a look. Thanks.
1.) Reasonable Faith.org (William Lane Craig’s site)
2.) Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
3.) The Veritas Forum
4.) Stand to Reason (Greg Koukle)
5.) Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry
6.) Apologetics 315
7.) Apologetics Press
8.) Ankerberg Theological Research Institute
9.) Gary Habermas
10.) Christian Research Institute
11.) Lee Strobel
12.) Mary Jo Sharp (Confident Christianity)
13.) J. Warner Wallace (Cold-Case Christianity)
15. Always Be Ready
16. Sean McDowell
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