Category Archives: kingdom of God

Who will be the greatest?

It’s funny how my kids will sometimes argue and fight over who gets to sit by daddy. Sometimes when I come to the dinner table and sit by one of them, that one will look at the other and say, “see, daddy is setting by meeee.”

Funny, yes. But frustrating, too. Tonight when this happened it made me think of the disciples of Jesus. James and John once came to Jesus (or their mother did, depending on which gospel you read) and asked to be granted the prime place of honor next to the Lord in His kingdom (see Mark 10:35-39 or Matthew 20:20-28). Apparently the other disciples caught wind of this campaign and did not take very kindly to it. Jesus simply asked if they were able to endure the same kind of suffering he was in order to gain such honor. Of course they said yes.

This vying for spiritual position reminds me of the way I once prayed: “I want to be closer to you than anybody else, Lord.” “Lord, even if everyone else turns away from you, I won’t” (I borrowed that one from Peter). Then there was the quote by that guy who said to D.L. Moody, “The world has yet to see what God can do though a man who is fully given to him,” to which both Moody and I responded, “I will be that man” (emphasis upon the “I”).

All this kind of praying just seems silly to me anymore. I’m fairly certain it’s a mark of spiritual immaturity. Like the disciples arguing over who would be the greatest in the kingdom, or my kids fighting and gloating over who gets to sit next to daddy.

The person who has really faced life and become honest about him or herself is more like the man Peter became after the cross. Such a man is not so sure of himself anymore. In love with the Lord, yes, but not so quick to broadcast his selfless devotion and superior allegiance to the Master. A man who has truly experienced the cross is more confident in God’s love for him than he is in his love for God.

There is nothing wrong with aspring to be great, dont get me wrong. When the disciples argued about who would be the greatest, Jesus did not condemn them for their ambition. He simply corrected their notions of what true greatness really is. Greatness comes not by being on top but by being on the bottom. Not by ruling but by serving. Not through strength but through weakness. So we should all strive to be great. Just get your definition right. 🙂

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Living a church life that involves ALL God’s people

The brothers and sisters I meet with on a regular basis are few in number. It’s been that way all three years we’ve been together. And while I am thoroughly convinced that it is not our number but simply what we are that makes for the Lord’s testimony, we often long for more fellowship with other believers. So in the past six months or so, as the light of the local church being the fellowship of all God’s people in a given place has dawned upon me, I’ve been moved to more actively seek out fellowship with other believers beyond the “walls” of our particular circle.

Thus far, the results of this endeavor have been both rewarding and frustrating. While we have been able to connect with many brothers and sisters who have different backgrounds and emphases of truth, at the same time it’s been difficult to gain any kind of reciprocation to our reaching out. Whether they are too busy, too cautious or simply do not see the importance of it, many saints don’t seem to have much desire to really go beyond their own congregation to have fellowhsip with other local believers. It’s heartbreaking, really. 

Even still, we press on. If the church is really one, and if the practical expression of that oneness is the local church in the city, made up of all believers who reside in a given locality, then we are obligated to go beyond our little circle to embrace fellowship with all believers. Even as we seek to be true to the truth the Lord has committed to us and to go forward with the light He has granted, we must walk in step with this realization that the local church is not just my little organic group. The local church encompasses all the saints in my city who call upon the name of the Lord, and even if they will not live like it I must. To do any less than this is to be a sect and not a church. To whatever degree possible, even as I seek to move forward with the few brothers and sisters I share life with on a day to day basis, I still have to find some way to experience and display a practical unity with all the believers in my town. Anything short of this will never come close to fulfilling God’s purpose.

So then, we must be true to what we see. We must go forward upon the ground of oneness, meeting simply as fellow members of the church in our city, expressing the Lord Jesus in truth and fullness. But we must also put into practice a local church life that extends beyond our own borders, for though we are taking our stand according to the way we believe God views the situation, the fact remains that we are not the only peeps in town who are “of Christ”. Therefore our fellowhsip must never be confined to any particular group or party. It takes “all the saints” to comprehend the awesome depths of the love of God, and only together will we ever come to know Him in His fullness.


God’s purpose for man is in the earth

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Notice here that Jesus does not say, “no one gets to heaven except through me,” but “no one comes to the Father except through me.” You might think this is nothing more than a slight semantical difference, but really it represents a huge gap between today’s popular evangelical teaching and the message proclaimed by the apostles in the first century.

I wonder how many of us ever stop to think about what God’s purpose was for humanity before man fell into sin. The way most people talk you’d think God created man just so He could save him. But there was a will, a purpose, and a mission all before sin ever came into the picture, and it was planted firmly in the earth. God did not originally create man with the purpose of getting him to heaven one day after he died.

God’s purpose for man was, and still is, found in the earth!

Then consider the general concept most people have of what is called “eternal life”. Popular opinion says eternal life is an endless existence in heaven.  But where does this idea come from? A better translation of that phrase would be “the life of the ages.” This alone puts a whole new spin on things. Here again we may take the words of the Lord Himself on this subject:

“This is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

So Jesus plainly states that eternal life is knowing God, or in other words being one with God. Nothing about living forever in heaven. To have eternal life is to possess the life of the ages, which possession begins here and now.

All this leads me to believe that we have somewhat overlooked the point of things when it comes to the nature and goal of our salvation. For instance, when the angel spoke to Joseph did he tell him to “call him Jesus, for he will save his people from hell?” No! He said, “call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins!” (Matthew 1:21) Yet the popular evangelical gospel being preached from most pulpits every Sunday spells out a very simplistic gospel which says little more than this: “God is holy and you are a sinner. Jesus endured God’s wrath in your place so one day when you die you will have Jesus’ perfect righteousness trasmitted to your account and you’ll get into heaven.” And it is precisely this kind of partial gospel that is failing to bring forth the full purpose of God in the earth. It may get people to an altar, it may give them an assurance that one day they’ll go to heaven when they die, but it is not producing a people in the earth who are conscious of God eternal purpose for their being here and who are living towards the realization of that purpose with every ounce of their being.  

What am I trying to say? Simply that salvation is not merely a matter of dodging hell and getting to heaven one day where we’ll have a blissful endless existence on streets of gold. It’s about being delivered from the power of sin unto a possession of the life of the ages, which life we have in union with the Lord who indwells our spirits here and now… that through our fellowship with Him in the church we may make a way in the earth for the bringing in of His kingdom in resurrection!

May the Lord hasten that glorious day!     


The church as a beachhead for the Lord

The goal of the gospel is not to get a bunch of people saved so one day they can escape this world by way of some rapture. The ultimate goal of the gospel is that God, through a people, will re-take this earth for Himself and prepare a way for His return!

The dictionary defines a beachhead as 1)the area that is the first objective of a military force landing on an enemy shore, or 2)a secure initial position that has been gained and can be used for further advancement. This is an incredible picture of God’s purpose for the church.

If you take into account the entire revelation put forth in scripture about what took place before the creation of the world as we know it, you see that when God made mankind and placed him in the earth He did so with the rebellion of Satan in full swing. In relation to this cosmic battle man’s charge was two-fold: Bear God’s image and exercise His authority in the earth. Through man the Lord intended to put down the rebellion of the snake and restore order in the cosmos. To do this He established a beachhead in the earth in the form of a garden and told Adam to keep it.

All this takes on the most significance when you view it in the context of the conflict of the ages. Sometime before the creation of the visible universe the Father loved His Son with an unspeakable love. Out from this love He decreed that a kingdom would come forth over which His Son would be Head. The Son would be pre-eminent in all things. The angel named Lucifer came to detest this proclamation and intention, desiring for himself the place that was said to be God’s alone. Upon this jealousy and hatred for the Son of God the rebellion began.

Earth had been the domain of Lucifer’s rule, under God. After he came out to challenge the pre-eminence of the Son he claimed the earth as his own. Rather than deal with His adversary directly God chose to make mankind, and through union with man (by which means the image of the invisible Godhead would be made visible in the earth) to deal with the situation that way. So the purpose of God for man from the very beginning has had a great deal to do with re-taking the earth for Himself. When Adam forfeited the beachhead God established in Eden Satan became established as the undisputed god of this age. Even the Lord Jesus, when tempted by the devil in the wilderness, did not go so far as to dispute Satan’s claim of being ruler over all the earth, for it was true at the time. Good news was the Lord had come to overthrow that rule.

So we see that the Lord Jesus came into this world in order to deal with sin, make a way to the Father, and re-establish a beachhead on the earth for the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose! Enter the church!

Oh yes! The church and the church life is of far greater significance than most people ever come to see or appreciate. The church-in particular the local church in every city-is a beachhead for the Lord Jesus Christ, established for His purpose of re-taking the earth! Turn on your radio. Go through the shelves of your local Christian bookstore. Switch on Christian television. Listen to the message being preached from most pulpits Sunday after Sunday across the land. How often do you hear this message and this purpose of the gospel being proclaimed?

Regardless of the spiritual impotence of popular Christianity, this is the ultimate intention and goal of the gospel. Not to get a people “saved” in the common evangelical conception, so one day they can go to heaven rather than hell. That kind of gospel is weak, it is shallow, it is partial, and it is failing in the full purpose of God for this age. The ultimate aim of the good news of the kingdom of God is to call a people out of this world, to give new birth in their spirits and a re-establishment of contact and fellowship with the Triune God indwelling their inmost being, and through the gathering together of that people in every city on this planet to raise a banner to the supremacy and centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ as Head over all things!  Praise the Lord!

You and I must ask ourselves: Is there such a beachhead established in my city? Is there this testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ as pre-eminent in all things? Is there a true expression of His church-local, organic, and dwelling as one with all believers-through whom the Lord is gaining full expression? This is the ultimate issue of the universe and of our very existence. To be found in this purpose is our grand calling. Until you’ve glimpsed this vision in your spirit you will never long for it in life. Until you’ve touched it in practical experience you will never abandon your whole life toward its fulfillment. But the Lord is willing! Let us pray together for an overwhelming revelation of the greatness of our Christ and the vastness of God’s purpose concerning Him. Then we will begin to have clarity on how our lives are to count toward its living realization.

Amen!


Where do you go to church? (re-post)

For the next installment of this series on the ground of the church I’d like to refer back to my post from March 24 of last year entitled Where do you go to church? Follow the link if you’d like to see the original comments, otherwise here’s a re-post of the entire article…

Can you imagine what it would be like if all the saints in your town gathered as one body, in love and in freedom? What a testimony that would be to the reality of Jesus Christ!

In the first century a church was identified only by its location. In other words, the biblical ground of the church is locality, and the only biblical grounds for separation between one church and another is location. It’s all a matter of geography, you see. In the New Testament you never see a church with a name. You only see “the church at such-and-such a place.” The issue is one of locality.

Alas, however, the setup of most “churches” today denies this basic fact of oneness and locality. The church building is the center of fellowship, where all (or most) of the action takes place, and people are drawn to come to it from many surrounding localities. Sadly, the people who gather in this manner are not provided much of a life together outside of the Sunday services, simply by virtue of the fact that they do not live near one another. The believers are scattered, much like the Jewish people were under Babylonian captivity long ago. Thus the majority of true church life-which is more than a weekly meeting but a day-to-day living together as the body of Christ-is lost.

Then consider this: Most “churches” today have names that reflect either a man, a doctrine, or a particular ideology, whether drawn from scripture or not. This is a contradiction of the true nature of the church, which has its life in Christ and gathers unto His name alone. This kind of gathering around a particular doctrine or teaching, or a gifted individual who handles all the ministry, is a major hindrance to any hope we might have of a practical unity finding expression among the Lord’s people.

If you were to ask me at different points in my life where I went to church I might have answered, “First Baptist,” “God’s Tabernacle,” or something similar. But if you were to ask God what church I am a member of, He would simply say, “the church in Portsmouth.”

It’s funny if you think about it. The very question most people spend so much time fretting over-“Where should I go to church?”-has already been answered for them by God. If you are a believer, if you have the life of God inside of you, then you are a part of the church in the town where you live. Period. If only all God’s people would see this precious truth and begin to live and gather according to it!

I am already a member of a local church, the church at Portsmouth. I don’t need to sign up or enroll in any membership class, or join a particular organization. I became a member by spiritual birth. The very moment I was born again in Jesus Christ I was also born into the family of God. The family of God worldwide, yes, but more specifically, the family of God in my own town. Membership in the local church comes by spiritual birth!

Even still, it’s not enough to confess this truth in theory and never see it come to any practical expression. The fulfillment of God’s purpose demands a practical expression of the church; therefore, we have to face this issue practically. If God has given us light concerning the local character of His church and the oneness of His body then we must follow through with it, as impossible and impractical as it may seem. This is how believers gathered in the first century. I know times have changed and that our situation today is drastically different than theirs was then, but even so, God’s will is just the same. Could it ever really be this way again, if only on a small scale? How I wish! But as the old song goes, “though none go with me, still I will follow.” This then is what we must work towards and live for: A true expression of the body of Christ!

Your comments and thoughts are more than welcome on this post, as I realize most people have probably never looked at things in this way before. I’m interested to know what you think.


Jerusalem…to which the tribes go up

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that He will choose…” (Deuteronomy 16:16)

“Jerusalem… to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as a testimony for Israel…” (Psalm 122:3,4)

In the last post we looked at the Old Testament and saw how God had a specific purpose in mind for getting His people into the land of promise. Within that land there was a specific plot of ground upon which the Lord placed great significance. There He chose to dwell and place His name, and out from that mount He wanted to express Himself to the surrounding nations.

Ancient Israel, as you probably know, was divided up into twelve tribes. When Joshua first brought the people into the land each tribe was allotted a certain portion of the land as their inheritance. Within those borders the people of each tribe dwelt. But three times a year everyone who was able was to come to Jerusalem for the annual feasts. These feasts were to be a time of celebration, fellowship, and offering to God. No man was to appear before the Lord in Zion empty-handed. Rather, each family was directed to set aside the very best portion of the produce of the land they had reaped the previous year, and bring it to Jerusalem to display before the Lord and share with their brothers and sisters in fellowship.

All this was a foreshadowing of the church.

Also, we looked at how Jerusalem was set up as a unifying force in the life of the Jewish people. Three times a year the people came up to the Holy City as one man to appear before the Lord and show forth the testimony of God. That is what Psalm 122 indicates. Their gathering together each year on the Lord’s chosen ground was for the testimony of God! And as they caravaned to Jerusalem they would sing the psalms of ascent, such as Psalm 133: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity!”

Furthermore, we noted that when the kingdom became divided after the death of Solomon, Jeroboam set up altars in the cities of Dan and Bethel for the express purpose of keeping his people from going to Jerusalem for the annual feasts, because he knew that if they did their hearts would be turned back to the Lord and he would lose his kingdom.

So then, Mt. Zion was God’s chosen ground. On it was built a city and a temple for the Lord. Out from that temple and city God willed to make Himself known. And Jerusalem was central in the plan of God, a vital factor toward the unity of the people.

Again, all this was a foreshadowing of Christ and the church. The land flowing with milk and honey represents Christ in His unsearchable riches. God’s goal is to get His people into the land, possessing the land, living off the produce which comes from their labor on the land. The temple represents the church, the fullness of Christ, which issues out of God’s people enjoying and applying the riches of the land toward its building. Then around the temple you have the city, where “thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David” (Psalm 122:5). The city represents the government and rule of God-His kingdom-which is brought into the earth through the church.

All this is getting a little ahead of the present conversation, though. The issue we are considering is the ground of the church. As the temple had a specific ground on which it was built, so the church has a specific ground on which it is built. It is very practical, yet very wonderful. We asked the question in the last post concerning what that ground is. Is it the house (as in, house church)? Is it a theological system or a denomination? What is it?

Every group of believers who come together do so on a certain ground. For some that ground is a particular doctrine. For others it is a specific style of meeting or form of government. For some it is a specific cause, while for others it is a certain demographic of people they hope to reach. Whatever the specifics, every group meets on a certain ground. The question is, what is the true and unique ground of the church? We know that the temple of old could only be built upon one particular plot of ground. When Cyrus released the children of the captivity to go back and rebuild, nobody entertained the thought of throwing up a new temple in Babylon, for the Lord had been very specific: only in Jerusalem, on Mt. Zion, was His House to be built. Even the proclamation from Cyrus to go and rebuild included the very specific injunction, “let the house be rebuilt on its site.”  In other words, on its ground.

People in our day are starting “churches” left and right. House churches, campus churches, legacy churches, organic churches, you name it. Seems all you have to do is have a vision, get some people together, start teaching from the Bible, perhaps gain a non-profit status, serve the bread and wine, and there you have a church. The only problem is there is most likely another congregation of local believers doing the same thing just down the road, only with their own emphasis on truth that forms their particular center. Denominations and organizational divisions abound. Is this honoring to God? Is it really ok for there to be twenty different “churches” in the same city, all employing their own separate administration, fellowship, and life together apart from other believers just down the road? Rarely do we stop to ask upon what ground we are attempting to build the House of God. But it is a question worth asking, and scripture has not left us without an answer to this all-important inquiry.

So I leave you once more with the question: What is the ground of the church? And when I speak of the church, let it be clear that I’m not talking about the “universal” church. I’m talking about the local, visible, attendable Body of believers-the thing you can touch, taste, and feel. What is the true ground upon which a group of believers can come together and actually, rightfully claim the designation of being a church? Keep in mind that my interest in pursuing this question has nothing to do with finding out who has the most bragging rights-that is, who’s doing it right as opposed to who’s doing it wrong (far from it)-but rather to genuinely search out and discover what the mind and heart of the Lord is on this matter. Because if I read the scripture right, having a true expression of His church is a whole lot more important than most of the other things we Christians spend the bulk of our time and effort on.


Observations from Genesis

Recently while reading Genesis I noticed that it was always the second born who got the blessing. This was contrary to the normal custom of the firstborn receiving the blessing, but it is consistent throughout the entire book. Cain and Abel… God is pleased with the sacrifice of Abel. Ishmael and Isaac… God says to cast out the bondwoman and her son because “in Isaac your seed will be called.” Esau and Jacob… the elder shall serve the younger. And then there was Joseph’s sons. Jacob intentionally placed his hand on the younger son in order to give him the blessing. Joseph tried to correct him but Jacob simply said, “yes, I know which one is which.” All this goes to show that God’s man is not Adam #1 but Adam #2. Not the first Adam but the last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the One upon whom the favor and blessing of God rests. He is the One in whom the Father is well pleased. Where the first Adam failed the last Adam succeeded, and upon Him and all who are in Him is the blessing of life. For those who are outside of Christ, it means that “you must be born again” in order to see the kingdom of God. We were born once in Adam; until we die to that man and are born anew in Christ we have no capacity to receive anything from God.

I’ve also been noticing how important it was to God to get His people into Canaan. The land apparently has tremendous meaning. It was not enough that God had a people, and it was not enough that they were holy and set apart. His ultimate goal for them was to possess the land He’d promised them. When they possessed the land He became not only the God of heaven but the God of heaven and earth. Of course the real significance of this is spiritual and not earthly.

In relation to this, when Moses came to Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go,” Pharaoh responded in three ways, each of which represents some way in which the enemy will try to hold God’s people back from going on with the Lord. First he said, “Don’t go at all.” Second he said, “Don’t go very far.” And third he said, “Don’t take everyone with you.” Don’t go at all-he attempts to blind the eyes of men from seeing Christ that they might experience salvation. Don’t go very far-he attempts to keep the saints from going on with the Lord to full growth. Don’t take everyone with you-he attempts to quench the expression of life and light through the church so that others will not be drawn in as well.

And it is all to keep the people out of the land. Brothers and sisters, that land is Christ. Christ is the land! And He has been given to us to possess. The abundance of the land speaks of His unsearchable riches. As we possess the land we will show forth those riches. We will be the church! And God will have His testimony. So we must do three things: We must go, we must go on, and we must take everyone with us!

These are just some recent observations. Hope you find them helpful.