Tag Archives: kingdom of god

In the Spirit of Lent

As I prepare to preach through Lent to Easter, I’ve been contemplating the meaning of this season. It’s a time of much-needed inner reflection for the church. It couldn’t come at a better time in my own life right now. And I suspect for everyone else as well.

The season of Lent covers the six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. It’s a time of preparation as the church looks forward to Passion week and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. This season involves an intentional focus on inner reflection through prayer, repentance, and self-denial. It is when we become acutely aware of our own brokenness and need for salvation.

Why do I need this season? I need it because I’m often tempted to look at others instead of myself. How can I help others? What is wrong with “the world” and how can I can help to transform it? As a pastor and teacher, it’s easy to live in this mode of existence. It’s easy to ignore what’s on the inside.

Also, I have noticed that as Christians we often need a little balance in our lives—equilibrium in our faith and practice. I think it’s possible to live in God’s love and grace, learning to live in freedom, and then forget something that is critical about ourselves and the gospel: we’re sinners saved by grace.

Bonhoeffer said that “cheap grace” is grace without discipleship, grace without repentance and the cross. Costly grace reminds us that practicing self-denial and repenting of sin is the call of every Christian.

Sin isn’t to be taken lightly.

Sin is “missing the mark” of God’s holy and righteous character, which is fully expressed in Christ. It’s a misuse of human energies, a breakdown in divine fellowship, and of human community. Sin is rebellion within the human heart against God’s best for his creation. It’s a spiritual distortion within humanity.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11 NIV

We can’t be lazy and careless on our journey with Christ in community. We must be intentional in the working out of our salvation (Phil 2:12). We need to remember the sin that is at work in us and the urgency of having it removed from us. This then requires us to look in the mirror, allowing God to chisel away the rough edges. The chiseling may hurt a little.

You can feel it when the cross meets your flesh.

Let us agree with Paul and claim this salvific truth concerning our identity:

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal 2:20 NLT

So what about those sinful inclinations? How are we doing with temptation? Are we, by the power of Christ, overcoming sin at work in our lives? What measures are we taking to stamp out our anger, our lust, our gossip, our greed, and our cynicism? Have we allowed anything to become an idol in our lives?

Are we counting ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ?

I do believe that Lent is also a good time to reflect on the problem of evil. Things are not as they should be. And if we’re going to walk in God’s love and grace through the purging process, we need to know from whence evil comes, and why we struggle with sin in the first place.

“Consider this: sin entered our world through one man, Adam; and through sin, death followed in hot pursuit. Death spread rapidly to infect all people on the earth as they engaged in sin.” Rom 5:12 VOICE

If we do not accept that the cosmos is not as God intended it to be, as a result of human sin on the earth and angelic (demonic) rebellion in the creative evolutionary processes of the primordial past, then we will inevitably attribute evil to God, instead of acknowledging the culprits who are responsible—ourselves and Satan who is the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2). Blaming God cuts us off from our only source of strength and salvation.

I submit to you that if there is any place in our hearts that wants to attribute evil to God, including our so-called “natural” proclivities, this makes naming our sins and repenting of them all the more difficult.

We will say things like, “Well, God made me/them this way” or “God is to blame for evil” in my life and the world. But if we accept that Jesus of Nazareth is the God-man, fully human and fully divine, we know the truth about the Creator and his good will for us. Christ reveals the divine will for our broken humanity.

We know that God in Christ is bringing order to the chaos. The good news of the Kingdom is that God has taken responsibility for the free world he created by becoming a human being and experiencing the darkness of our fall. He took up our sin and rebellion and nailed it to the cross (Col 2:13-15).

Jesus was crucified and raised for our sanctification. He calls out a people, a church, to accept this free gift and transform this broken world by the power of his Spirit. He wants us to participate in sorting it all out.

Sin has been rendered powerless. Death has lost its sting! Christ took on the powers of darkness and defeated them through holy living, even unto death. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead has been given to us.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3 NIV

What will we do with the Spirit’s power this Lent? Will we quench the Spirit or will we let him have his way in us? The future of the church is wrapped up in the way we respond to the Spirit that is at work in the world, seeking to reconcile all things to God, and bring healing to the nations (Col 1:19-21).

Be strong and courageous. Call sin what it is and repent of it.

Stop looking at the sins of others, and reflect inwardly toward your own need for sanctification. It is there that we will find healing for our souls in this season of renewal. Blessings on the journey.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Anabaptism 101 (Sermon Series)

Hello blog readers!

This past Sunday I finished preaching through an exciting 6-week sermon series entitled Anabaptism 101 at Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship (CMF) in Virginia, where I’ve been pastoring since the first of the year.

The series focuses on the historical roots and current convictions of Anabaptism. As many of you know, I didn’t grow up within an Anabaptist tradition. And since half our congregation didn’t grow up Anabaptist, this sermon series seemed like a good place to begin as pastor.

 

Here is a brief outline of each message in the series:

  1. Beginning of a Movement—A general overview of key persons, events, and issues that led to the “radical” 16th century Anabaptist movement. What does “Anabaptist” mean? Where does the name “Mennonite” come from? Where is Anabaptism going today?
  2. Radical Discipleship—The Anabaptist view of discipleship in detail. What does it mean to follow Jesus? Did Jesus really expect us to follow his teachings from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? What is so different about the Anabaptist view versus the popular evangelical view?
  3. Word Made Flesh—The Anabaptist view of the authority of Scripture, and a Christo-centric hermeneutic (interpretation) of the Old Testament. Do Anabaptists hold a high view of Scripture? What is so different about the Anabaptist view of Scripture versus the popular evangelical view?
  4. Church as Kingdom Community—The Anabaptists saw the church as a missional, counter-cultural family of Kingdom citizens. What is the meaning and purpose of baptism? What is the meaning of communion? Why live a simple life? What does it mean to embrace “the other”?
  5. The Politics of Jesus—The most controversial and oft-misunderstood aspect of Anabaptism: non-violence and the politics of Jesus. In what ways did Jesus resist empire? How far do Anabaptists take Jesus’ message of peace and reconciliation? How do Anabaptists understand church & state? How subversive is the NT?
  6. Triumph of the Lamb—Answers to the most common objections concerning the non-violence of Jesus. Didn’t Jesus come to bring a sword? Didn’t Jesus tell his disciples to buy swords? Finally, does the portrayal of Jesus in Revelation contradict the Jesus of the Gospels? How will the way of the crucified Lamb conquer evil in the end?

You can download and listen to each message by visiting our temporary sermon archive. We will be archiving all sermons on the new church website once it is up and running. Please stay tuned for that.

There was Q&A after each message, but you can only hear it following the Triumph of the Lamb. Our small groups are going through The Naked Anabaptist for further discussion and study. If you’re looking for a good overview of Anabaptism, or Neo-Anabaptism, check out Murray’s book.

If you have questions or comments, please let me hear them here at the blog.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth (2 of 7)

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18

In the introduction to this blog series, I listed seven reasons why the world system hates Jesus. As I stated previously, I have decided to use these seven provocative statements to summarize the radical life and teachings of Jesus. I’m addressing the first two in this post because they are so closely related.

Let’s be honest, many who profess Christ today have simply not understood the reasons why Jesus was seen as a threat to the world in which he lived. In many evangelical churches you will find that there is mostly an emphasis on his birth, death, and resurrection (e.g. Christian holidays).

This is no doubt a result and lingering effect of Christendom—the merger of church and state which began in the 4th century AD. When “Christians” choose the sword and political power, the life and teachings of Jesus must be spiritualized or ignored altogether, since Jesus doesn’t support it.

Many evangelicals in America have attempted to embrace the world and Christ (1 Jn. 2:15-17). The only way to embrace the world and Christ is to change Christ. It is a Christianity that shapes Jesus to fit an agenda and perverts true discipleship at its core (Matt. 5:38-48; Jn. 13:34-35).

“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.” John 12:47-48 NIV

Jesus demands a complete commitment to discipleship (Matt. 16:24; Lk. 5:11; 12:53). It’s not very popular these days to even suggest it, but it’s true. Jesus draws the line in the sand and says, “Follow me.” Because if you don’t follow the authentic Jesus, it has consequences for the age to come.

When the life and teachings of Jesus are stonewalled in order that our faith might fit secular agendas, or to accommodate our sin, the gospel is rendered powerless and ineffective in its purpose to bring all nations (ethnic groups) to confess him as Lord and King (Phil. 2:10; Rev. 3:14-21; 5:9).

Christ’s command was to make disciples of all nations, thus calling them out of the kingdoms of the world and setting them apart into a holy nation called the church (Matt. 28:18-20; 1 Pet. 2:9). Right here. Right now.

Jesus called this radical revolution… the Kingdom of God.

1. Jesus Proclaimed the Kingdom of God

It was the central focus of Jesus’ ministry on the earth. He said the Father had sent him for this purpose (Lk 4:43). It’s the Son of Man in Daniel 7, coming to give the Spirit to those that would receive him.

“The time promised by God has come at last!” The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” Mk 1:15 NLT

Repent. Jesus is saying that we must stop, turn, and move in the direction of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is what it looks like when God is running the show. And what exactly does that look like? It looks like Jesus loving, serving, and dying for those that crucified him. It always looks like Jesus.

But first we must repent. We must turn from our own way. Turn from the world system of power-over others. Turn from a world of greed, hate, coercion, violence, sexual immorality, and all forms of self-gratification.

It’s called sin. And it misses the mark of God’s good will for the world.

Everyone must regularly repent in order to follow Jesus and join the Kingdom revolution. Why? Because we’re broken. Because the world is not presently what it ought to be. And like gravity, the world system constantly presses against you. Repentance is the way to defy it.

Repentance is an act of defiance against all that opposes God’s reign and rule being known in our lives, and in the world.

Jesus defied religious and political powers with his “good news” about the Kingdom that was already breaking into this present evil age with his arrival. He upset the so-called natural order of things.

Jesus rejected the image of a sword-wielding Messiah, and told Pilate that his Kingdom is “not of this world” (Jn 18:36). He said that Satan is the sinister culprit behind the kingdoms of the world (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Therefore, grasping for political power was a fool’s errand (Matt 4:8-10).

The early church believed that ‘Jesus is Lord’, and Caesar is not. That’s good news for those who recognize that this world system is spinning violently out of control, void of life and headed for destruction.

It’s good news for the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. It’s good news for those who see their need for a Savior, and acknowledge that no government or yoga meditation is going to sort out the mess. We need help from above.

It’s good news if you aren’t invested in the power-over methods of the kingdoms of the world. It’s gospel to those who recognize their spiritual poverty, and are willing to repent for new life—eternal life in Christ.

But like those still plugged into The Matrix, this message of the Kingdom of God threatens those dependent upon the world system for life, security, and a sense of purpose. Those who are happy with the way things are, with themselves and the world, aren’t going to like the coming Kingdom.

“The establishment of God’s kingdom means the dethroning of the world’s kingdoms, not in order to replace them with another one of basically the same sort (one that makes its way through superior force of arms), but in order to replace it with one whose power is the power of the servant and whose strength is the strength of love.” N.T. Wright, How God Became King, pg 205

Jesus said you must be “born again” to wake up to the reality of God’s Kingdom at work in the world (Jn 3:3). Only then can you begin to discover the power of the upside-down Kingdom. Repent and believe the good news!

Just be aware that this Kingdom revolution is a threat to those that love the world system. They may hate you for it. They hated Jesus.

He was crucified for proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

2. Jesus Was Not Patriotic

I’m entirely bewildered by how so many evangelicals don’t understand this aspect of Jesus. If you have seriously examined the Kingdom of God, and that Jesus is calling people to leave their former allegiances, there is no way to miss this. Jesus was not patriotic. Boy, this really upsets the applecart.

No matter how you slice it, patriotism goes beyond an “appreciation” for the good of one’s own country and heritage. It is love for a kingdom other than God’s transnational Kingdom. It’s like sharing your bed with a harlot.

Patriotism sets up an idolatrous fortress in the human heart. It demands allegiance—forming thoughts and priorities that are antithetical to the gospel.

“Patriotism” has always been a deceptive term—infused with counterfeit virtue—meant to cover up the idolatrous nationalism that it breeds. It’s tribalism, plain and simple. The gospel simply does not allow it.

Patriotism says, “We are special. We are the good. God is on our side.”

No doubt that Yahweh had to put up with this tribalism in the OT to a certain extent. But even then we can see God working within the ANE framework in order to bring his covenant people out of this worldly kingdom thinking (Gen 12:1-3; 1 Sam 8:7; 1 Chron 22:8; Isa 42:6).

Ultimately, Israel’s story, which is part of the church’s story, teaches us that worldly kingdom power, with all its violence and corruption, fails to bring about God’s redemptive purposes in the world (Ps 11:5; Isa 2:4).

This is the very thing that Jesus was rebuking in his proclamation of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God doesn’t come about through law or violence, but instead by love of neighbor and enemy (Matt 5:38-48).

If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. Jesus, Matt 5:46-47 NLT

It’s a peaceable Kingdom that transforms the inner man. It moves forward in love. This radical love doesn’t stop at the border. It reaches across imaginary lines on a map. It rejects tribalism and calls for a new world order.

Jesus declared that the new nation that God was forming would be made up of Jews and Gentiles (i.e. multiethnic & multicultural). Therefore, the Kingdom calls for equality and diminishes ethnic boundaries (Lk 4:24-30).

Jesus greatly offended the Jewish people because of this vision of the future. It didn’t jive with their “we’re the greatest nation on the planet” attitude.

They loved their tribalism and hated him for suggesting that they really loved the world more than God and his Kingdom. There was no room in their patriotic hearts for the King of the cosmos and his transnational love.

You know the rest of the story. The Jewish leaders brought it to the attention of the Roman Empire that Jesus proclaimed himself a king and called for a kingdom that was juxtaposed to the euangellion of Caesar.

Jesus was crucified for his treasonous, unpatriotic words and actions against the glory of Rome. He was handed over by his own people in part because they hated him for not sharing their love of ‘God and country’.

The world will hate those who follow in his steps.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Read the next post:  3. Jesus Was Not Religious.


Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth (1 of 7)

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18

Introduction

Why would anyone actually hate Jesus? It’s much more understandable that people might have an extreme dislike for Christians, being that many professing believers don’t take the teachings of Jesus very seriously.

But hate Jesus?

It’s no secret that many skeptics and critics of Christianity would agree with Ghandi, the Hindu guru who admired Jesus for his call to non-violent resistance. Ghandi said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

I will be the first to empathize with this sort of repugnant response from non-believers against the Christian faith. It’s disheartening to know that many Christians have outright rejected the teachings of Jesus—either largely due to ignorance or extensive efforts to do some manner of hermeneutical gymnastics around the biblical text.

Regardless of the reason, there is simply no excuse for it. If you’re an atheist or skeptic reading this, I’m sorry that some Christians make it difficult for you to see the image and will of God fully expressed in the person of Jesus. I’m sorry when and where I have failed you.

Truthfully, even authentic followers of Jesus will fail to live up to Christ’s example. Therefore, if you are a skeptic, I would say there are Christians that accept all of the teachings of Jesus and are presently on a journey of faith with the intent to see Christ’s life manifested through them by the power of his Spirit. There are real disciples—true learners.

Now let me say that I don’t think that misguided Christians should be the basis by which a person makes a judgment about Jesus Christ of Nazareth. As he said to those in his own day who were trying to make up their mind about him, Jesus says to all of us today:

“Who do you say that I am?”

Who was Jesus? What did he teach? What did he believe about himself? What did he accomplish in his short ministry? And what does it have to do with me? If we will approach the Gospels in all sincerity and with an open heart, I believe we may encounter Christ for ourselves.

So what is it that Jesus had in mind when he said that the world would hate his followers because it first hated him? Well, rest assured that it’s not for being hypocritical, or for purposely being self-righteous jerks.

Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (Jn. 15:19).

What then does it mean to “not belong” to this present world system? For that is indeed what Jesus has in mind. He is not promoting some sort of Gnostic escapism. His kingdom is not of this world, but it is for this world.

As God intends to bring heaven to earth, how has Christ called us to live in this world that lovers of the world would hate us for it?

That’s what this series of posts will address.

I intend to argue that we must take Jesus at his word or do away with him entirely. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer has written, “There are only two ways possible of encountering Jesus: man must die or he must put Jesus to death.” In other words, you must lose your life if you wish to save it.

In an attempt to clarify the gospel message for Christians and skeptics alike, I have chosen seven primary reasons for why the political and religious leaders in the first century hated Jesus and had him put to death. And of course why the world system still hates Jesus of Nazareth today.

I will briefly expound on each of these in the next six posts:

  1. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God.

  2. Jesus was not patriotic.

  3. Jesus was not religious.

  4. Jesus rejected materialism.

  5. Jesus challenged worldly wisdom.

  6. Jesus was loving and intolerant.

  7. Jesus revealed the new way to be human.

This is not an exhaustive list. I have simply decided to use these seven provocative statements to summarize the radical life and teachings of Jesus.

This summary will help us to stare long and hard at the most controversial man in all of human history, and to rethink what we thought we knew about the radical Jewish Messiah from Nazareth.

It’s my hope that Christians will consider if they have fully accepted the teachings of Jesus regarding the gospel of the kingdom of God, and if they are intentional in being obedient to Christ’s commands.

If you are a skeptic, it’s my prayer that you will open your heart to the historical Jesus in the Gospels of the New Testament—that you might know him as being alive today and doing something about evil.

In my next post, I’ll begin by expounding on the first two reasons together, since they are related. For the remaining five, I will address each of them individually. I intend to keep them succinct as possible for easier reading.

1. Jesus Proclaimed the Kingdom of God and 2. Jesus Was Not Patriotic.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


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