Sunday, February 15, 2009

Be the Change

As a firm believer in the providence of God, I know the events of this morning were no accident. First, I taught this week on Jesus' message of internal transformation. After class, I listened to a sermon that delved deeper into Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom of God within us. And during it all I sat next to a mentally handicapped gentlemen who, I must confess, tests every ounce of my patience.

I first met Tom (I've changed his name for obvious reasons) about 2 years ago at our church. He lives in a small community across the street where several apartments are leased to people with varying degrees of handicap. A social worker checks in from time to time on each person, none of whom possess the capacity to be totally independent. As a result of our proximity, our church welcomes frequent guests from this community.

From day one, Tom's goal at our church has been evident. In fact, he's not bashful about his objective at all. He wants to meet a woman. Not wishing to be inappropriate, Tom is quick to qualify that of course, he would wish to marry this woman in order for their relationship to be proper. Nonetheless, he has informed us very plainly, he longs for certain desires to be met.

Boundaries have been set. All ranks of church leadership and deacons are aware of Tom's situation and single-track objective. He is never left alone with groups of women. Upon seeing him, any one of several men in our church quickly come alongside Tom and make sure to accompany him very closely throughout his visit to our church. And, despite being told very sternly on more than one occasion that we are not going to assist him in his endeavor at our church, he still returns quite frequently to attend a class and sometimes stay for worship—although his mental disabilities have severely limited his attention span, making an entire 1-hour worship service a very rare occurrence.

After wrapping up class this morning, I walked out to get some coffee where I found Tom eagerly engaging in a one-on-one conversation with a women in our church. As usual, I stepped in between, interrupting their conversation with my own cordial greeting for Tom. "Oh great," I thought to myself, "I guess it's my week to be his babysitter for the day."

For the next 20 minutes, as I listened to Tom's usual rants about not having a wife to make him happy, I caught myself in the most selfish of thought patterns. "I only get to see some of these friends once a week. I can't believe I have to be the one to babysit while they're all over their visiting. Why can't we just tell Tom what we think and not have him come back again." Much to my dismay, he decided this Sunday to join me in worship service. "Who else can I make him sit with," I thought to myself.

But it was in the pew this Sunday that God thumped me upside the head and made me see what Jesus was saying... what even I had been teaching. The sermon was from Matthew 4. As the pastor read "those having seizures... He healed them" (Matt. 4:24), Tom leaned over to me and said, "that was me, but Jesus healed me." I was frozen in my seat. I later learned that Tom was born premature and didn't breathe at all for his first few minutes after birth. As a child, he suffered seizures, but after asking Jesus for healing, they ceased. That was the reason he's been drawn to the church seeking the answer to his next major request of God: a wife.

I still don't agree with Tom's intentions at our church. I still believe he needs constant supervision. But what I learned is this: I cannot change Tom's mind, I can only change my mind toward him. With God's help, I hope to do so!
"Be the change. Be the light. Show this world what love is like." - Jake Brothers
You can be praying for me this week as I have plans to meet Tom for lunch and hopefully ease some of his obvious loneliness.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Five Things Every Christian Should Know About the Kingdom of God

In our continued study of the Person and Work of Christ, we come this week to Jesus' earthly ministry. I've been rather enjoying this week of preparation in the gospels, seeing anew the old stories I thought I had learned as a child. Of particular interest has been the topic of the Kingdom of God, and seeing as how I wrote a book on the topic, you might say I have a special fondness for it. This morning, let me share with you 5 things I think every believer should know about the Kingdom of God.

  1. It's within you.
    In Luke 17:21, Jesus says that "the kingdom of God is within you." Now, though Christ has ascended, the Spirit remains to rule in our own hearts. In the Kingdom of Eden, Adam was able not to sin (posse non peccare). Prior to the giving of the Spirit, men were not able to not sin(non posse non peccare). In the present age of the inaugurated Kingdom, His subjects are able not to sin as Adam once was. But, as we will see below, we await a final consummation of all the Kingdom promises when we will be not able to sin (non posse peccare).
  2. It's among you.
    An alternate translation of Luke 17:21 might rightly read, "the Kingdom of God is among you." In fact, I believe this translation is more likely what Christ meant as He spoke and what Luke intended to communicate. Remember, at the time Jesus spoke these words, the Spirit had not yet come. In fact, Luke's gospel places little emphasis on the coming Spirit, it's in John that we find strong teaching on the role of the Spirit. The Kingdom of God was "among you" when Christ was here because the King was here. How could they fast with the King present? Why were the Pharisees asking when it would come while their King was among them?
  3. It's already come.
    As I mentioned in the first point, the Kingdom has been inaugurated now. We live in an age of Christ's rule on earth unlike any in history. He is transforming His people via the sanctifying work of the Spirit to be conformed to His likeness. In this present Kingdom, with our sins now forgiven we can approach the throne of God confidently. In fact, for those who wait for "the resurrection," it, too, has also begun as Christ was resurrected so that He might be the first.
  4. It's yet to come.
    Christ spent most of His earthly ministry filling the role of a Prophet to Israel. As a prophet, His message was to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. He taught His disciples to pray saying, "your kingdom come" (Luke 11:12). He warned them about what would happen "in those days" (Mark 13:17). Even after Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension, Paul wrote, "our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there" (Phil. 3:20). There are numerous promises that we are waiting to be fulfilled in the final consummation of God's Kingdom on earth.
  5. It's the same thing as the Kingdom of Heaven
    A little anticlimactic, I know, but I had to slip this little tidbit into the top 5 list so that no believer would be led astray by false dispensational teachings on Matthew's use of "Kingdom of Heaven." As Matthew wrote to his Jewish readers, he respected their reverence for the name of God and substituted the word heaven in it's stead. Be assured, Christ's message recorded in Matthew on the Kingdom of Heaven is one in the same with Mark and Luke's account of the Kingdom of God.

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