Kingdom First!

It was a political phrase which stood in complete opposition of the political parties in power. It was a phrase that was filled with so much meaning that those who would try to live it out would most likely lose their lives. There was one King in the World and his name was Caesar. There was one power center and it was in Rome. Anyone who disagreed with this belief or tried to usurp the authority of Rome would be crushed. No exceptions. Yet on a little hillside in Judea a young man named Jesus announced “kingdom first.” Matthew 6:33

Through the centuries we have watered down this statement which Jesus made about the Kingdom to mean something completely different than what it meant when Jesus said it. Jesus was not encouraging people to make their personal spiritual experiences a priority. As important as these experiences might be, Jesus had something even more revolutionary in mind. Jesus was announcing a new political power. Pastor and theologian Greg Boyd said that “Jesus came to establish the kingdom of God as a radical alternative to all versions of the kingdoms of the world.” What this meant on the practical side was this new kingdom was not concerned with promoting or necessarily helping the kingdoms of the World accomplish their purposes. Making Rome great was not the priority of a Kingdom first person. Kingdom first people were to make God great. Prior to the Roman emperor Constantine the church understood what Jesus meant on the Sermon on the Mount when he said seek first the kingdom. It took courage to be a Kingdom first Christians.

May Kingdom first be our battle cry. Although the affairs and rulers of the World are not our priority may we pray for the peace and tranquility of our communities. May we love all that God has placed before us. May we seek not to make our communities better but be the better communities so that we may attract people to a kingdom that is not fading but will last forever. The revolution has begun. The battle cry is kingdom first!

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Another Kingdom

Probably what the World needs is another blog site, right? It seems like wherever you turn someone has a blog or post about what they think and what they believe. Inherently there is probably nothing wrong with them. It is good for us as communities to share our thoughts and ideas with one another. Certainly sharing is something that we as a World can get better at doing. Many times we want everyone to hear us and in the market place of ideas we not only want them to hear, we want them to agree. When they do not agree we simply yell louder. My hope for this blog is not to get louder. What I envision is a journey. Everyone is on a journey. Some have an idea of where they are headed, others have an idea but are not sure how to get there, and than there are those who do not realize they have a journey and so they wander aimlessly. Some days I feel like I am in all three categories. Where I see my journey heading may be like the journey Bilbo described to Frodo in the Lord of the Rings when he said, “It is a dangerous business Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” This type of journey does not sounds very safe. Truthfully it is not. But this is the journey I have chosen.

I like to call this the journey that I am on a journey into “Another Kingdom.” The phrase Another Kingdom is one in which I came across from a book I read last year with a similar tittle called, An Other Kingdom by John McNight, Walter Brueggermann and Peter Block. As I read their book I could not get this phrase out of my mind because it depicted how I was shaping my life or maybe better yet how God was shaping my life. For years I lived out my Christian practice very much in the spiritual realm but not always in the physical realm. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom I immediately thought he meant the kingdom to come in heaven. So my “Jesus life” was wired to get myself to heaven and to get as many people as I could there as well. Now heaven is important and has it’s place but the more I read through the gospel accounts I realized that Jesus rarely talked about heaven. Most of his conversation was about a kingdom. Not a kingdom which would come hundreds of years later or even a kingdom which was up there in heaven. Jesus spoke about a very real and physical kingdom which was meant to be lived in the now. The fruits of this kingdom, its blessing and its rewards were mostly focussed in the now and not the later although some great blessing were yet to come. When I saw the kingdom as a “now” reality it occurred to me that Jesus kingdom was not the only kingdom. There are other kingdoms which exist. Jesus came into a World filled with kingdoms. Yet his kingdom was different. It was “Another Kingdom.” It was a kingdom which he said would continue to be more powerful while other kingdoms would fade. It’s power did not come through tanks and armies, but through the Holy Spirit and love. This kingdom was not simply meant to make other kingdoms nicer places to live but it was meant to be an alternative kingdom to all kingdoms which would eventually make this World a better place to live.

Another Kingdom is what I have put my hope in. It consumes much of my time and in some way it is what I want to write about as I go on this journey. I am blessed and fortunate to be able to share this journey not only with close friends and family but also with my local kingdom family Agape Christian Church. Let me simply close with this quote from John Nugent in his book Endangered Gospel. I hope you will be encouraged by it and reflect upon it as you seek to live for Another Kingdom.

“What then is the Kingdom? It is the fulfillment of Israels hopes. It is the reign of God over his people on behalf of all creation. It is the new world order that the prophets foretold. It is everything God’s people longed for, and more. It is Israels God intervening in World history to make a better place in this World”

My Fall from Republican Jesus

In the late 1980’s I became a follower of Jesus. It is a decision which I will never regret. The last 30 years have been some amazing years in my life as I have watched God mold and shape me. My conversion to the way of Jesus came around the birth of the Christian Moral Majority. The Moral Majority was simply a politically conservative action group in the United States which consisted of many well-known Christian leaders and conservative politicians. Many conservative Christians were concerned about the direction the country was heading especially after major losses in the courts over prayer in school, and the right of the unborn. Politically this movement decided to take the fight for our country right into the heart of the church. I can remember receiving voter information cards about what candidates believed or did not believe. Certainly, this type of information is always good, but the intent was, to know exactly who was on God’s side and who was not. The Moral Majority had created a crusade against those “evil people” who were bent on taking away our country which was a nation founded under God. This was the culture my faith grew up in.

I cannot speak for other Christians but something I noticed in my life over the last 30 years is my faith somehow looked like the platform of the Republican Party. I can remember having conversations with my Christian friends in which we were puzzled how anyone who was a democrat could actually be a Christian. When Fox News hit the air in 1996 I felt like I had a spiritual friend. Whatever they taught I believed. I also began listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio. The things they were saying seem to make sense to me. Their enemies must be God’s enemies. Whatever the political issue, if the Republican Right stood for it and Rush and Fox News endorsed it, then it must be of Jesus. Than something happened which changed my Republican Christianity to simply following Jesus.

I cannot really tell you the date of the change but within the last 5 years I have gone through some major transformations and paradigm shifts in my thinking about Jesus and politics. Part of my shift was the realization that Jesus was very political but not in the sense or the way I thought of being political. I began to read books which challenged my Republican Jesus. Scholars like Tom Wright, John Howard Yoder, and John Nugent challenged me to look at Jesus in new and refreshing ways. This new and refreshing way challenged me to look beyond my culture. I found that cultural biases are not easy to break. Martin Luther King Jr, understood this in his fight against segregation. In describing white America he had sympathy for the white race because he knew the powerful influences which culture had on them. He stated,

“They are misguided. They have fine reputations in the community. In their dealings with white people they are respectable and gentlemanly. They probably think they are right in their methods of dealing with Negroes. They say the things they say about us and treat us as they do because they have been taught these things. From the cradle to the grave, it is instilled in them that the Negro is inferior . . . The whole cultural tradition they have grown under-a tradition blighted with more than 250 years of slavery and more than 90 years of segregation-teaches them that Negroes do not deserve certain things. So these men are merely the children of their culture.” Oates, Stephen B.. Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was a child of the Republican moral majority culture. I saw scripture through this lens. When I began to look at scripture through the lens outside of my cultural trappings (this is not an easy process and probably never perfected) I saw a different Jesus. I sought to focus on seeing Jesus through his cultural context. What did he mean when he said, “blessed are the poor” or “love your enemies”? Soon I began rereading the words of Jesus and the Bible in a whole new light. The Jesus I discovered in the Bible was not trying to make nations Christian (something impossible to do) but was seeking to build a Kingdom and society which stood in contrast to the Worlds systems and political parties. Jesus movement was not about accepting him in your heart than going on with your life until you get to heaven, but he was calling for allegiance to Him and his policies. This allegiance superseded my cultural and political allegiances. I realized that Jesus did not promote republican, or even democrat ideas, but he promoted Kingdom ideas. He was not trying to create a better earth but within this World create an alternative and new culture. He was asking me to pray for Heaven to be brought to Earth. This could not be done by the politics of any national country but only through the politics of a sovereign God.

The more I study the politics of Jesus the more I fall in love with Jesus. Sometimes people will label me either conservative or liberal based on my understanding of Jesus. A friend once told me not to worry about labels and simply follow Jesus. I am ok with people labeling me. In Jesus day they called Jesus all kinds of things. So, what does this all mean. First and foremost, I have no allegiance to any nation but only to Jesus. Secondly, I hope to think and act more like Jesus than the political culture around me. I will respect and love others even those I may not agree with all the time. I will not be swayed by politicians who use the name of Jesus to push their agendas. My hope for the church is that we will lift high the name of Jesus. Like the Christians of old who had no king(or political alliances) but Jesus, I too declare him my only king.

Two Nights Which Shaped My Life Forever

Recently I was reflecting on two days in my life which I know I will never forget. The first was Christmas day 1985. Christmas as a kid and even now is one of my favorite days of the years. Certainly, I love opening gifts and also watching others open gifts, but I think what makes Christmas so special is I am around people I love and people who love me. Christmas day 1985 though was different.

In 1985 I was a part of the University of Arizona football team. We had a very successful year and as a result we had been invited to play against the legendary Georgia Bulldogs in the Sun Bowl. The game was to be played a few days after Christmas but because of scheduling and media events we were in El Paso the week before the game. I must confess that most of time in El Paso was spent partying rather than preparing for a game. On Christmas night I along with other players went to a local bar to celebrate Christmas day. I can remember sitting in a crowded bar downing one beer after another than coming to the realization that in this sea of people I was lonely and empty inside. The pain of this emptiness only intensified because of the fact I was far from home and far from people who loved me. For years I had turned to alcohol, drugs, popularity, sports and money to fill my emptiness. On Christmas night 1985 I realized they all left me very lonely in life. It would be 10 months later in which I would experience another night which would change all I knew about life and ultimately fill that void and emptiness which was so real Christmas day in a bar in El Paso, Texas.

Fast forward 10 months. In October of 1986 I got on a greyhound bus in Anaheim California. I did not get off the bus until Columbus Ohio. I had got on the bus in hopes of something different than the life I had. My entire life was a wreck. Earlier in 1986 I lost my scholarship to Arizona because of drugs and alcohol and simply a failure to go to class. I had lived in out of motels and sometimes out on the streets. A few people took me in, but I knew my life was spiraling out of control. So, when I got on the bus headed to Ohio I was hoping something was going to change. If it did not, I knew I was running out of option to move forward in life. So, in October of 1986 I moved in with my Aunt & Uncle in Lancaster Ohio. I knew they were religious. More than being religious I saw in them a peace and contentment which I did not have in my own life. I wanted to know more about this peace. One of the rules of living with them was that I would have to attend church. This was not a problem, not because I enjoyed church but because I needed a place to lay my head at night. It so happened that the little church I was going to was having a week-long revival. Each night I listened to what the preacher had to say. Than on Friday night something clicked. The preacher talked about finding fulfillment in life. He talked about filling the emptiness which we all have in life. Most people try to fill this emptiness with all kinds of things. Some try to fill it with drugs, some sports, others with money, some with careers and some with relationships. I had tried all these in my short 21 years of life. All of them left me empty inside. Than he mentioned that the only thing which was meant to fill that emptiness was Jesus. I grew up knowing about Jesus but never really paid attention to who he was and even if he wanted anything from me. The preacher went on to say that the only way to fill the void was to make Jesus Lord of your life. So, 10 months after that lonely Christmas night I walked forward in a church service and knelt down at an altar and told Jesus that I did not know much of him but that I had made a royal mess of my life and I needed to change. As I was praying I felt two sets of hands on my shoulders. Both my Aunt and Uncle joined me in support and prayed with me. For the next few minutes we wept together as I called out on God. That night my despair turned to joy. My hopelessness was replaced with hope. I was no longer empty.

Just as I will never forget that Christmas night in El Paso Texas and it’s loneliness I also will not forget the night in Lancaster Ohio when I came home and found what my life was looking for.

Rethinking Heaven

What I am about to say I would not have said several years ago. Actually, what I am about to say may be something that most in the world, and especially Christians, will find hard to hear. I need to say it though, not because it is something new or the latest spiritual fad, but because I believe it is truth. As Christians we always need to be challenging our faith. We must never settle for faith that has not been tested or has not gone through the fires of discernment. Parents who raise their children up in the Lord realize that it is critical for children to have a faith which is their own. The only way to have ownership of our faith is to test everything to scripture. Many false ideas have worked their way into the lives of Christians and the church because we have not been dutiful in checking the scriptures to see if what we believe is true.

So what is this great truth that many have overlooked that I find hard to say? It is this: Heaven is not the ultimate hope of Christians. The belief that heaven is the ultimate goal of believers is not Biblical. Now I am certain that some are ready to write me off at this point. But I ask you to hang in there with me. Heaven is important and it has its place, a place we will discuss later in this book. I realize that this is not a very popular statement. It goes against the very grain of everything we have been taught to believe. Just a few years ago I would have scoffed at the idea that heaven was not the goal of Christianity. Yet, the more and more I study scripture I realize that I have had a misunderstanding of heaven. Much of my understanding of heaven, and even the afterlife, has been built around popular teaching and not on the Bible. My hope for this little article is that you will gain a Biblical understanding of the ultimate hope for believers in Christ and see how heaven fits into this hope. My only request is that you will be like the Berean Christians in Acts 17:11 who “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The key is not to take my word, or even the word of popular Christians of our day. The key is to examine the scriptures to see if what is being taught is true.

Purpose of Heaven

It is the place where God dwells

The scriptures teach us that God dwells in heaven. It is His home. Jesus, when He was teaching on the mountainside, told his disciples that when they pray they are to pray to God who is in heaven (Matthew 6:9). Throughout the gospel letters this phrase, “who is in heaven,” is repeated often when the name of God is used. Psalm 115:3 tells us God is in the heavens, while in 1 Kings 8:49 we learn God’s dwelling place is heaven. Although many people think of heaven as a place which is far off, the Bible paints a different picture. Heaven is not a place which is up or even down but it is in a different dimension. Heaven is a spiritual world which is not visible to the human flesh or eye, but is very near to the physical world. Yuri Gagrin was the first Russian astronaut in space. He is credited with saying when he went into outer space that he did not see God. For some, there was a belief that God was somewhere beyond our earth. But heaven is not something within our creation. This does not make it unreal. Heaven is very real. It is the place where God resides

It is the place where Jesus reigns

There is a false belief that when Jesus left this earth to return one day, He simply went away and let earth do its own thing. Some believe that Jesus is simply in heaven now, readying our home that we will one day have in the future. Certainly Jesus may be preparing our future destiny, but we can be certain that Jesus did not leave the earth and no longer has any say. Just the opposite is true. In the Old Testament, the prophets proclaimed that one day the Messiah would come to rule the world. He would also do other things, like bring forgiveness of sins and heal the nations, but the prophets were clear that the Messiah would be an earthly king. In Matthew 28:18 Jesus proclaims that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” What Jesus was saying to His disciples was that He was now ruling as King, both in heaven and on earth. He was the rightful King that the prophets had told about in the Old Testament.

In Acts 1:9-11 we learn that Jesus goes to heaven. The purpose of going to heaven was multifaceted but one of the main reasons was so that Jesus could begin his rule. His victory on the cross was that He was able to defeat the worldly powers and authorities. They no longer ruled the world. They certainly would have fleeting power but their dominion as supreme ruler had been defeated. From heaven, with the help of the Holy Spirit, Jesus would begin to rule the hearts of mankind. Heaven became the headquarters, or operation room, for this new rule on earth. Just as Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States and all decisions about our country are made from this city, so heaven is the place where all the decisions are made by King Jesus.

It is the place where Christians await the final resurrection

While Jesus was hanging on the cross, two thieves were beside Him (Luke 23:40-43). One of the thieves began to mock Jesus about his Messiahship. But the second thief took pity on Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into His kingdom. Jesus responded to him that on this day he would be with Jesus in paradise. Many people believe that what Jesus was telling this man was that today he would spend eternity in heaven. But this was not what He was saying. Certainly this man was going to heaven, but he was not going to spend eternity there. The word paradise in its original meaning meant a place like a park where one would receive refreshing. Jews of Jesus’ day believed that paradise was a place that souls went to until the final resurrection of the dead. It was not meant to be a permanent dwelling, but a rest stop until one got to their final destination.

It would be correct to say that anyone who dies in Christ is now in heaven. Paul says in Philippians 1:23 that he was torn between staying and helping the church and dying to be with Jesus. To be with Jesus would to be in heaven. But it is clear that Paul did not believe that the final state of mankind was to go to heaven and remain there for eternity. To believe this, would be to ignore all of Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians 15 about the resurrection of the dead. Paul believed that a day was coming when Jesus would resurrect all people who died on earth. Heaven simply was the place where believers waited until the final resurrection took place. The resurrection was the hope of all Christians

The Hope of Christians was the Resurrection of the Dead

The hope of the early church was not that they would one day die and go to heaven and their spirit would spend eternity there. But the hope of the early church was that one day they would resurrect from the dead to live in a new body and on a renewed earth. In Acts 24, the apostle Paul was on trial. In verse 16 he shares the hope of Christianity. He says Christians will one day resurrect from the dead. He goes on to say, in verse 21, that he knows that he is on trial because of the teaching and belief that one day people will resurrect. The hope of being resurrected with a new body was not a new teaching. Jewish believers before the time of Christ believed that one day God would resurrect them back to life. Ezekiel 37 was a scripture that many Jews turned to for this belief in resurrection. In this passage the prophet Ezekiel saw a valley of dry dead bones. In it, he witnessed them coming to life and receiving flesh. In John 11, Lazarus, a friend of Jesus’, dies. Lazarus’ sister, Martha, is crying over his death. Jesus says he will live again. Martha believes that Jesus is referring to the ancient Jewish belief in a resurrection that will happen on the final day of history. Jesus responds that He is the resurrection and the life and that whoever believes in Him will never die. In other words, Jesus is confirming that there is a resurrection and that whoever believes in Him will be resurrected. They will live forever.

The forever that Jesus promises is not living in a spirit body but in a new, heavenly body. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us the hope for Christians is that they will receive a new body in the Resurrection. This new body will be like the body that Jesus had when he resurrected from the grave. In verse 20 of this chapter, Paul says that Jesus’ resurrection is the first fruits of those who have died. First fruits means that there is more fruit to come. Paul is excited to share that just as Jesus was resurrected and received a new body, all those who died in Christ will receive a new body as well. This was the hope of Christians.

Paul’s belief in the Resurrection of the dead came from Jesus’ words and teaching. Here are a couple passages where Jesus speaks about Resurrection.

John 5:28-29

“Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”

Luke 20:34-36

“Jesus replied, ‘The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage,  and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.’”

This was the hope of the early Church. This is our hope as well. We will one day resurrect from the dead. We will one day receive a new body. But where will we live? The answer is that we have been made for a new heaven and a new earth.

We were Made for a New Heaven and New Earth

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth so says the writer of Genesis. Right away we are introduced to Adam and Eve and the God who created it all. We learn that God spends six days creating the world and everything in it. On the seventh day God rested. Now we know that this rest does not mean that God got tired and so He took a break. Many Bible scholars believe that this rest was a picture of God now inhabiting his new creation. Heaven and earth were like a temple where the Holy God would reside and interact with his creation. The main responsibility given to mankind was that they would co-rule the world with God’s help and direction. The only major thing for them to remember was they needed to trust God and not themselves. Adam and Eve chose not to trust God and simply believed that they knew best. As a result sin entered into the world and brought death. Three major things were affected by this sin and death. First, it hindered the relationship man had with God. Secondly, it hindered the relationship mankind had with one another. And finally, it hindered the relationship mankind had with the earth. What started out as a great project, ended in despair. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden, signifying the splitting of God and mankind dwelling together. God, in his faithfulness, would not leave mankind and the earth in this state forever. God had a plan that would restore the broken relationship mankind had with Him, the relationship mankind had with one another, and the relationship mankind had with the earth. So what was God’s plan?

The plan which God would use to restore what went wrong in the garden would take place through the family of Abraham. In Genesis 12:1-3, we learn that God is going to bless the whole world through this special family and its descendants. Abraham would become a great nation. God would bless all that blessed him and curse all that cursed him. All nations would be blessed through this family. In Genesis 13:14-17 we learn that the descendants would inherit the land forever. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, God carries out this theme that He is going to restore what went wrong in the garden. We know that Jesus who was a descendant of Abraham (Matthew 1:1) was the one who would bless the whole world. It would be through Jesus that all the promises to Abraham would be fulfilled. The relationship between God and man would be fixed through the cross, as well as the relationship man had with one another. The one promise that many overlook was that God was going to take care of the land. God promised that the descendants of Abraham would live on it forever.

God never went back on this promise that his people would one day inherit the land forever, even though through the years God’s people were unfaithful to Him. The Psalmist writes that God’s righteous people would dwell in the land forever. (Psalm 37:29) God repeated this promise to Isaiah in Isaiah 60:21 and Isaiah 61:7. In Proverbs 10:30, we learn that the righteous will never be removed from the land but that the wicked would not be in it forever. So how would God keep His promise that He would restore the land and that His people would live on it forever? God gave us a huge clue in Isaiah 65:17. God plans to make a new heaven and new earth. This promise is one which is rooted in the idea that God will restore this broken world by making it new. It will not be some far off new place that He will make new, but He will restore this fallen world. Paul tells us that in Romans 8:22 that the world is eagerly waiting to be restored and renewed. This will be done when God’s children receive their new glorified bodies.

Maybe one of the hardest and yet amazing books in the Bible is the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation was originally written to be an encouragement to Christians who were going through very rough times. The exciting part of the book is in Revelation 21 and 22. These two chapters complete the promise of inheriting the land forever made to Abraham’s descendants. In it Jesus returns. But He is not alone. He is bringing heaven to earth. Heaven and earth collide making a new heaven and earth. God completely restores the world. What is lost in the garden is now regained. A new city is built (the New Jerusalem). This new city is our new home. It is a place where we will live forever. We will not be floating around on clouds but we will begin the original project God started with in the garden. We will be part of reigning in this new creation. God will be with us. This will happen when Jesus returns. When He returns, the dead in Christ will rise first and those living on earth will be changed over. The earth will be restored and we will live forever. This is our hope. The Prophets and Jesus were pointing to this. It is an exciting future. It is our destiny.

One Tribe

People all around the World are made of different tribes. Tribes are simply a way in which people view life. Most tribes are territorial or are part of a particular ethnic group or simply see life in a certain way. What they may have in common is certain values or customs. Within the United States tribes can fall under many categories. Our political party, our stance on certain issues, the communities we live in, the schools we attend and the church we belong to can all be under the heading of a tribe. Most conflicts in the World can be attributed to ones tribal values clashing with the values of another tribe.

In the 37th chapter of Ezekiel, God tells Ezekiel to take two sticks of wood and on one stick write “Belonging to Judah,” and on the other stick write “Belonging to Joseph.” Ezekiel takes the two sticks and brings them together as one. The point is that God will one day not simply bring the Jewish tribes back together again, but he will raise up one tribe under the leadership of the messiah King. This King will rule his people with justice and peace. The people in this tribe would finally inherit the land promised to them back in the days of Abraham. As the Bible unfolds we learn the promise of land was not simply a little piece of land in the Mediterranean, but God intended to renew and restore the whole Earth as his possession. The Apostle Paul assumed this prophecy came true in the work of Jesus on the cross. In Galatians 3:26-29 Paul writes, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Did you catch that? Jesus came to have one tribe and family and this family was going to inherit the promise that were given to Abraham.

So, what does this mean for the church? First, commitment to the Jesus tribe is essential. The typical view of a church is that it is the place where we come to get some good moral teaching, or it is a sin management station, and sometimes we view church as the holding station until we get to Heaven. There may be some truth to these statements, but the primary purpose of the Jesus tribe is we are to be committed to one another and to Jesus in relationship. We are a family. Tribes look out for one another. We don’t just attend church one day a week, but we share life together throughout the week. Secondly, allegiance to the Jesus tribe must be louder than other tribes. Our goal is not to promote the tribes of this World. We are to promote Jesus. Our goal is to invite people not to a political party, not to a certain stand on certain issues but to invite them to be a part of the Jesus family. Will we have differences? Of course, we will, but our differences should not be louder than what we have in Jesus.

We live in a culture in which people are defending their tribes. I personally am tired of defending tribes that I am a part of except the tribe of Jesus. I want to lift high his name. I want to let the World know that being a part of the Jesus tribe brings hope to the World. I am reminded that the tribes of this World will eventually fade, but the tribe lead by King Jesus will live forever in a restored and renewed World. This is good news

The Promise-Message notes & outline

The Promises
Notes from Message on March 4th 2018
Audio can be found at https://agapechristian.sermon.net/main/main/21122315

How Genesis is typically read
1. Stories of great faith
2. Practical moral advice.

How should Genesis be read?
God’s rescue plan to fix the problem of a divided Heaven and Earth.
The fix will come in a series of promises through a family
The Promises will be dependent on God’s faithfulness.

Verses about Promises to Abraham and his descendants
Genesis 12:1-3
The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Promises
” I will make you into a great nation
” I will make your name great
” I will bless those who bless you

Genesis 12:7
The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring[a] I will give this land.”So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
Promises
” To your offspring I will give this land

Genesis 13:14-17
The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring[a] forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
Promises
” All the land you see I will give to you and your offspring forever
” I will make your offspring numerous

Genesis 15:5-7
5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars-if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[a] be.”
6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
Promises
” Offspring as numerous as the stars
” Possession of the land

Genesis 22:15-18
15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,18 and through your offspring[a] all nations on earth will be blessed,[b] because you have obeyed me.”
Promises
” Descendants as numerous as the stars
” Your descendants will take possessions of the cities of their enemies
” Because of your offspring all nations will be blessed because he obeyed

Genesis 26:24 Isaac
That night the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”
Promises
” Increase the number of descendants

Genesis 27:29 Jacob receives blessing from Isaac
May nations serve you
and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed
and those who bless you be blessed.”
Promises
” Nations will serve you
” Those who curse you will be cursed and those who bless you will be blessed

Genesis 28:3-4
May God Almighty[a] bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.”
Promises
” Increase in numbers to become community
” Take Possession of the land

Genesis 35:10-13
God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel. ” So he named him Israel.
11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.
Promises
” Be fruitful and increase in Number
” Nations and Kings will come from you
” Inherit the land

Genesis 48:3-4
Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me 4 and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’
Promises
” I will make you a community of peoples
” I will give you this land as an everlasting possession.

What do we learn?
1 God is going to build a Great Nation through the descendants of Abraham
1. Galatians 3:7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.
2. Galatians 3:29. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
ii. What does this all mean?
iii. Those who accept the Jewish Messiah are this great nation.
2 God’s People will inherit the Land for eternity
Matthew 5:5- Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Romans 8:18-21. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Does redemption and inheritance of the land look like A New Heaven and New Earth?

3 God is going to Give his People a great name
Ephesians 1:3-14
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he[b]predestined us for adoption to sonship[c] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will- 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he[d] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment-to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. 11 In him we were also chosen,[e] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession-to the praise of his glory.
4 All nations will be blessed through this family

Conclusion: I want to look at one last passage.
Romans 4:19-21
Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-since he was about a hundred years old-and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

Paul says that Abraham never got to see the promises God had made. But in his faith, he gave glory to God. The word faith can have different meanings. It can mean an intellectual consent of things known or believed. It can mean trust. “Yes, I trust you”. But in this case, I believe the correct word is allegiance. Faith equals Allegiance. Abraham’s life was about obedience to the promises. Abraham was in essence saying Lord I believe your story and it is now my Story? This is the question Jesus ask us today.

What is our Story? Does it have allegiance to God’s story?

Understanding the Story Beyond our Culture

Imagine you are living in the deep south in the year of 1845. You are part of the Baptist faith. Your denomination has just made the announcement that if you own slaves you cannot be a missionary for the Baptist church. So, what do you do? Well in the south, Baptist churches met in Augusta, Georgia to form the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention believed that God permitted slavery and they had Bible verses to prove it. Many Christians in the southern states believed that the Negro race was an inferior race. These teachings were prevalent in southern churches well into the 20th century. It was not until 1995 that the Southern Baptist Church publicly renounced the view of slavery and racial discrimination.

How could so many Christians believe the false idea that the white race was superior or that owning slaves was what God would want? Being on this side of history, it is easy to point out the errors of our ancestors. Imagine though if you grew up in the southern culture in the 1850’s. As much as I like to think I would be opposed to slavery and the belief that the white race is superior, I believe that it would be hard to think differently. Why? Because most of us view scripture through the lens of our culture. Culture is a powerful influence. It shapes how we view life and the Bible story. If we have always been told something through the pulpit, many of us will believe it whether it is true or not because within our context we believe it to be true, especially if so many others believe it to be true. Germany had produced some of the greatest theologians at the turn of the 20th century, yet somehow anti-Semitism was allowed to grow and flourish. Adolph Hitler capitalized on this by saying, “I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” We all know that these strong cultural misunderstandings caused not only the lives of 6 million Jews but also the lives of tens of millions across the planet. Allowing the culture to shape the Biblical story is dangerous to the work and mission of the church.

The great task of the American church today is seeking to understand the biblical story beyond the shaping influences of our culture. This is not an easy task, especially when we are being bombarded by so many messages from social media and cable news. The church needs to not be so arrogant to believe that we are not like our ancestors of the past. They too believed they were preaching the pure gospel. So how do we prevent our culture from shaping how we view the Bible story? I believe with much humility and patience. We need to have humility enough to say that maybe what we have believed could be wrong. I am not saying what you believe is wrong, but we need to check it against the story the Bible is trying to share with us. We need to have the patience to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”. We need to be like the Apostle Paul who spent his life seeking to align himself up with the story of the Bible and work to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and… take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5. This will not be easy. It will take hard work to detox our cultural biases from our view of scripture, but the work is worth it.

God has an amazing story. It transcends time and culture and yet it is for our time and our culture. Work hard my friend for your effort will obtain for you a most glorious prize. God is good and rewards those who seek him. Below I have added the words of Frederick Douglass who challenged the Christianity of the South. May it also challenge us with whatever views we may have that are not part of the Christian story.

“Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference-so wide that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason but the most deceitful one for calling the religion of this land Christianity…”.

Getting the Story Right

It is confession time. It has been almost 40 years and I feel compelled to finally confess this sin. I feel like it is the right thing to do. I need to clear my conscience and free those who were wrongly accused. So here goes.

In my teens there were times when I did things which I know where not right and certainly not pleasing to my parents. Sometimes others suffered from my sins. This account is one of those times. By the way I am not proud of this and certainly not proud of the things I did. This event involved one of my sisters. This is a sister I dearly love today but recognize that she took a punishment from my parents for a crime she did not commit. I remember the story this way. Somehow, I came across one of those phone numbers that when you call it you would hear a recorded message that in this case was not very wholesome. As I was listening on the phone(for those too young to remember, this was a time when we had no cell phones and people could pick up and hear conversations on another phone in the house) my father pick up the other line. I immediately knew I was in big trouble. The next moment I heard him roar from across the house with his booming voice. He wanted to know who was on the phone. At this point in the story my memory gets real vague. I am not sure if I told my dad that it was my sister, or he simply assumed it was her. Regardless I did nothing to change his mind. All I know is the punishment that I deserved, she received. My dad had the details right. One of his kids was doing something they should not have been doing. The result of this is that one of his kids would be punished. My sister received the punishment. He had the details right but the story wrong. This is where I must say to my sister I am sorry. I hope in your heart you can forgive me.

Details do not always equate to a correct story. Case in point is how we might understand the Bible. Christopher J.H. Wright in his book The Mission of God says, “Down through the centuries it would probably be fair to say that Christians have been good at their messianic reading of the Old Testament but inadequate (and sometimes utterly blind) at their missional reading of it.”
What Wright has observed is that we have been really good at the details about seeing Jesus in the Old Testament but have not been so good at understanding the story the Old Testament is trying to tell or the story the Bible is trying to tell. For many the references of Jesus in the Old Testament have simply been used as a proof texts that Jesus in the New Testament was the Son of God. Now certainly this has some truth to it, but it is not really the story the Bible is trying to tell.

The creation account in Genesis 1 & 2 is another example in which sometimes Christians have had the right details but the wrong story. Most of the time when I hear people talk about the creation account it is simply being used for an argument for God’s existence, or a debate about young earth verses old earth. Unfortunately, these arguments cause us to miss the story the Bible is trying to tell about creation and about God. Maybe one of the most misunderstood details of the Bible is that of Heaven. Most Western Christians view of Heaven has been shaped more by Plato, and the age of enlightenment than by the real story the Bible is trying to tell us about Heaven and the future life of humanity.

I hope by now I have at least peaked your interest. You may think that this is not a very important issue. Do not be fooled it is critically important. The Bible is first and foremost a story. Not just any story but God’s story. Understanding the story is not simply important but it is essential. Those who have misunderstood the story of the Bible have created a religion that looks more like the cultures they live in or have created a religion shaped more in their image than in the image of God. The story you believe is the story you will participate in. Our belief in what we believe the story is telling us shapes and directs how we act and live. The misunderstanding of the Story has tragically resulted in such horrific things such as the Crusades, the promotion of slavery, the massacre of Indians, and the holocaust of Jews. Getting the story right is important.

Over the next month and leading into Easter I plan to explore the story the Bible is telling us both on this blog and also through sermons preached at Agape Christian Church. I hope you will join me in the discussion.