Saturday, May 17, 2014

That's the Kingdom of God

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
-Genesis 1:1-3

God is a God of order, but also creativity.  When He spoke into the darkness and said, “Let there be light” He began the process of creation, transforming the earth from a dark, void, formless place, to something of incredible beauty.  I love how the gospel is right there in those first few verses.  Our lives were dark and void, but God’s Spirit was hovering.  When God’s voice of truth came into our lives His light illuminated our darkness and we were saved.  Thus began God’s work of transformation in our lives.

My wife is very creative.  Among her culinary delights, she paints and draws and designs.  I have a painting on my wall at work, a hand-made calendar she made for my office, cards she has made for me as tokens of her love, and more!  To all these creative things there is an order.  A painter covers a canvas, a writer constructs sentences to weave together a story, an actor uses expression and words to convey emotion, and a good sermon has some structure to it.  Order and structure are conduits for creativity and beauty.

Creation has order to it.  Water and land and sky have boundaries.  Rivers have banks.  Plants, trees, and animals are made “according to their kind.”  God created male and female, similar, yet distinct, different (and let me add, though a subject for another time, that regardless of what our culture says, homosexuality is out of order).

Order, however, is not rigid.  God is not a perfectionist.  He is not a legalist.  Sometimes we take creative license to express something a certain way.  Order then should foster life and creativity, not stifle it.  It is a channel by which things can reach their full and glorious expression.  Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to lighten up!  Relax.  It’s nice to come home to a clean home, but the floors don’t have to be polished to perfection every day and a bit of dust on the coffee table isn’t the end of the world.

The Scripture says that, “…the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)  I would equate righteousness with having God’s order in our lives.  But is righteousness perfection?  I don’t think so.  First of all, we have received righteousness from God; it’s not something we attain in our own efforts.  God sees us as righteous because of what Jesus did on the cross.  Secondly, righteousness is a heart attitude, a desire to want to live pleasing to God.  Thirdly, righteousness will show in right-living.  When we live in righteousness, we will have order in our lives.

We are also a work in progress.  Sometimes creativity looks messy at first, but, that’s because it’s a work in progress.  You may feel like a mess, but, God’s still working on you.  You may appear to have everything in its perfect place, but feel empty inside, void of joy.  Righteousness is not the enemy of joy.  Order and structure should and ought to allow for life, vitality and freedom.  You’ve probably been in a church where there was a lot of structure and “order,” but no LIFE.  It could be a church bound up in tradition and religiosity, or it could be a church severely wounded.  God’s Spirit, hovering, wants to breathe life into that which is dead and bring healing to that which is crushed, so His church can live in the fullness of joy, full of life, creativity, and peace.

Sin causes things to get out of order.  When our lives are out of order we tend towards dysfunction and strife.  When we get back into alignment with God and His purpose, we experience the fruits of peace, love and joy.  When God’s Spirit moves, it may not always seem orderly as we might think of order.  Sometimes it may seem a bit messy.  But, God is bringing order into people’s lives, because what God is doing on the inside of a person is infinitely more important that outward appearances.  If a person is dancing wildly in front of the congregation, perhaps God’s Spirit is moving on him in a powerful way, setting Him free from chains of the past.  Who are we to say he’s out of order?  That’s the kingdom of God.

Here's creative card my wife, Leslie, made for my birthday this year:




RIGHTEOUSNESS, PEACE AND JOY IN THE HOLY GHOST, THAT'S THE KINGDOM OF GOD!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Risk!

When I was a young boy I went to the woods down the street from our house and explored.  There was a small creek, if you can call it that, that went through what I remember as kind of a swampy area.  On my 25th birthday, which is now over ten years ago, my mom sent me a letter in which she wrote the following:  “I remember you going into the swampy area down from our house in Dowagiac (the town we lived in in Michigan) and your mom would have quivers of thoughts [of you] stepping in to quick sand but as a young boy I knew you needed the adventure.”  Every boy loves the thought of a grand adventure, right?  Yet, with any adventure, there is RISK.     

First of all, I very highly doubt there was any quick sand in that swampy area.  I’m not even sure we have quick sand in Michigan, for that matter.  Nevertheless, when I was a boy I didn’t know what mom’s thoughts were, but, reading her letter makes me appreciate the wisdom she had.  Even though she was afraid, she held her fear, and allowed me to have my adventure.  I feel like that was an important part of developing me as a boy and as a man, the permission to explore. 

No matter what we do in life there is some risk.  The world can be an unsafe place.  Even the home can be an unsafe place.  God Himself takes great risks.  He risks trusting frail human beings with important tasks.  He allows us to step into responsibilities knowing that we could fail and that, in the process, we could hurt others.  Yet, he gives us a chance.  And when we follow Him, seek Him and obey Him, we succeed.  And even when we fail, He is able to redeem our failures and still complete what He began in our lives. 

God takes great risks.  How about the risk of temptation?  God stood back while Adam and Eve were tempted, risking that they could disobey.  And they did!  Yet, God already had a plan in place.  God does not tempt us, but He certainly permits temptation.  Jesus Himself was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1).  What if he failed? 

God allows imperfect men to marry sweet wives, knowing those husbands may mistreat them.  God risks allowing imperfect couples to raise children, knowing that we will wound those children.  God gives wonderful dreams to us, knowing we could foul the whole thing up.  God entrusts us weak vessels with His message of salvation, knowing we will often fall short of His holy standards.  God entrusts imperfect people to shepherd His flock, knowing those Pastors could damage the sheep.  And sometimes they do.

We risk a lot in following God.  It’s not really risk, it just feels that way to us.  If we follow Him we may have to risk trusting Him to provide for our needs.  Will He come through?  Will He be faithful?  There is a tension that we feel in walking by faith that is uncomfortable.  We all have, at times, those feelings of uncertainty.  What if I was wrong?  What if I didn’t hear from God when I really believed that I did?  Why is it that I hear from God so clearly sometimes, yet, sometimes reality doesn’t seem to line up with the wonderful things He has spoken?  That’s the risk we take.

God develops us, He forms and molds us, not in a place of complete safety, security and comfort.  He develops us in the realm of real life.  Real life can be messy.  When the Spirit hovered over the earth before creation, it was dark, “formless and empty…” (Genesis 1:2)  Yet from that dark place God formed something beautiful, full of light and life, creativity and order. 

As you walk with God, take a RISK.  That risk may involve great sacrifice, even suffering.  You may be betrayed, become discouraged, quiver with fear, and get hurt.  Yet, there will also be great joy, satisfaction, excitement, and, in the end, a great reward in heaven.  Take a risk!

Prayer Equals Peace

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow...