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Contrasting a “Me-Centered” Society

If you’ve ever read through the Gospel of Matthew, you’ve probably noticed that Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe it’s about 55 times in Matthew – 126 times throughout all four Gospels – that Jesus talks about this kingdom. He tells all kinds of parables and gives all kinds of illustrations to help us understand what the Kingdom of God is like. And of course, Jesus isn’t talking about a kingdom with physical borders and castles and armies and things like that. The kingdom of God is a different kind of kingdom. In fact, when Jesus was on trial before the Roman governor, Pilate, Pilate asks him, “Are you a king?” And Jesus says in John 18:36…

36 Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36

Jesus was saying his kingdom was very different from the kingdom of Rome or any other kingdom that we might be familiar with. You see, unlike most kingdoms, the Kingdom of God is not centered around some physical location like a city or a castle or a country. The Kingdom of God is centered around God. And God of course is not limited by location – he’s omni-present. He’s present everywhere all the time. So God’s kingdom is not defined by a physical location, but it’s defined by the people who carry out the will of their king.

Two weeks ago we looked at the Lord’s prayer and there’s a key part of that prayer – one that you’re probably familiar with – which goes like this: 

“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 KJV

We talked about how, when we pray that, we are inviting God’s will as King to be done on earth and in our lives and in our community – just as his will is being carried out in heaven. 

And so when Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven – he’s talking about the people who submit to and carry out the will of God in their lives.

And it makes sense that we should pray that prayer – “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – We should be eager to carry out God’s will because we know that God’s will is good and pleasing and perfect. We read that from Romans 12:2 three weeks ago:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

Our will is often flawed. I can’t speak for you, but I know that my will is often selfish and sometimes I make decisions that hurt others or even myself. We are not perfect people and we do not make perfect decisions.

But God is perfect. And his will is perfect. It’s good and it’s pleasing. We don’t always understand it. We don’t always see the good immediately. But if God really is how the Bible describes Him – loving, just, faithful, and all those other things – then we can trust that his will is good and pleasing and perfect.

And I’ve certainly seen that to be true in my life. I’ve had a lot of regrets doing things my way, but I’ve never regretted doing things God’s way.

But that’s sure not to say that it’s been easy. Doing things God’s way often means doing things the exact opposite of what everyone else is doing. We’ve talked about how the Kingdom of God is very different from the Kingdom of this world. In fact, that’s probably why Jesus talked about it so often. If we are going to live in the kingdom of God, then we need to be prepared to live very differently – different from how we used to live – different from how the world around us lives.

And so that’s what we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks as we’ve been going through this message series – which we’ve titled “Kingdom Living”.

What is God’s will for us in how we should live? If Jesus is our King and His will is good and pleasing and perfect, it would seem to me that we would want his will to be done on earth and in our lives and in our community – just as it is in heaven. And if so, then what is that good and pleasing and perfect will for us? How does He want us to live? What does Kingdom Living look like?

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Thy Kingdom Come

Last week we began exploring the differences between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. And they are very different.

We noted that Jesus frequently told parables about the kingdom of God to help us understand what it’s like because it is so different from the kingdom of this world. In fact, from what Jesus says, it almost seems backwards and upside down. For example, Jesus says in the kingdom of God, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first. He says that if you want to be great, you must become the least – if you want to save your life, you’ve got to give it up – if you want true riches, give away what you have”. It seems like the kingdom of God operates exactly opposite to what we’re used to. 

Actually, let me show you a verse from Matthew chapter 5 – verse 11. I didn’t read this verse last week, but I think it illustrates how backwards the kingdom of God seems to be.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.” Matthew 5:11-12

Usually, you might say God has blessed you when you have a nice house, a healthy family, wonderful friends, a good job, and life is going swimmingly. We see all that and we say, “Yup, God sure has blessed me.”

But Jesus says that when people are mocking us, persecuting us, lying about us, and saying all sorts of evil things about us because we are His followers – that’s when we know we are blessed. I don’t know if that sort of stuff has ever happened to you, but if and when it does, that’s when you can say “Yup, God sure has blessed me.”

And that just seems backwards! It’s clear that the kingdom of God is very different from the kingdom of this world.

And that creates a huge challenge for us because Jesus says that those who follow Him – those who are a part of the kingdom of God – those people are in this world, but we’re not of this world.

We live here in our communities in this time and place and in this society – but we belong to a totally different kingdom with totally different values and a totally different culture. Paul tells us that we used to be part of that kingdom, but upon receiving Christ as our Saviour and King, we’ve since been transferred into a whole new kingdom. He says in Colossians 1:13…

13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son. Colossians 1:13

When choose to follow Christ, we are transferred from one kingdom to the other – from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God. 

And so it is a huge challenge for us to live according to the values and the culture of kingdom of God while still living in the midst of the kingdom of this world. 

But believe it or not, that’s exactly God’s plan and purpose for those in his kingdom. That was God’s plan and purpose for Israel – and that’s still the plan and purpose for church.

Table of contents for Kingdom Living

  1. The Culture of the Kingdom
  2. Thy Kingdom Come
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The Culture of the Kingdom

When Heather & I were first married, we had to opportunity to travel to Australia to volunteer at a Christian camp near Sydney. We spent about 4 months there and it was a very unique experience. Of course, we experienced all stereo-typical Australian things – we saw kangaroos and koalas and wallabies, found didgeridoos and boomerangs in the local tourist shops, we took in a show at the Sydney Opera House and – all the classic Australian things. We even started to pick up an Australian accent. We saw and experienced all the things that you’d expect to see and experience in Australia.

However, we also experienced a lot of things we weren’t expecting. Despite the fact that Canada and Australia have a lot of similarities – the same basic language, roots in the British Commonwealth, all that stuff – we were surprised to find just how different the Australian culture was from ours. We really did experience a certain amount of culture shock. Let me give you just a couple examples.

Now this first example was compounded by the fact that Heather & I were both brought up in very sheltered, conservative homes, but we found the Australian culture to be very liberal and sometimes  even abrasive. For example, it was very common for good Christian leaders to use language that we would never use. What we would consider crude or even swear words were quite common place. As timid, polite Canadians, it was a bit shocking to hear the abrasive stuff that came out of their mouths. So that was a bit of a culture shock.

The other example would be that even the camp itself was run very different from the camps we were used to. One of the weirdest things I remember was that the counsellor or cabin leader didn’t actually sleep in the room with the kids – (at Camp Little Red, the counsellor sleeps in the tent with the kids of course), but in Australia, we slept in a room down the hall, leaving the 8-10 kids alone in their room. It sure seemed like a wrong way of doing things, but that what they did. The counsellors would get all their kids into their rooms and then all the staff would gather and hangout at the party room for a couple hours before bed while the kids did who-knows what alone in their rooms.

They just did a lot of things very differently than how we would do them.

And I know that many of you have probably experienced that too, as you’ve traveled to different parts of the world. Different cultures simply do a lot of things differently. It can seem backwards or even wrong to us – but it’s normal and proper to them. And certainly, if you’ve ever made a big move to live among a different culture, you know that it can be difficult to adopt that new culture because our old culture is just so ingrained in us.

And I think many Christians experience that as well. There can be an element of culture shock when we are introduced to the kingdom of God and sometimes it can be very difficult to adopt this new culture.

You see, the Bible teaches that when we accept Christ as our Saviour – we are also accepting him as our King. And having a new king means becoming part of a new kingdom. This idea is conveyed throughout the New Testament, but Paul talks this specifically in Colossians chapter 1…. He writes in verse 11:

May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. 13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. Colossians 1:11b-14

So in other words, Pauls says that since we have put our trust in Jesus as our Saviour and king, we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son – the kingdom of light –  the kingdom of God.

Now of course, we aren’t physical transported to another place – we still live in the world, but we’ve become subjects of another kingdom. In fact, in Philippians 3:20, Paul says…

“But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.” Philippians 3:20

As citizens of heaven, we have a new King – we have a new set of laws. A new set of rights and responsibilities. A new set of cultural expectations.

Table of contents for Kingdom Living

  1. The Culture of the Kingdom
  2. Thy Kingdom Come
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The Substitute

For the past two weeks we’ve been theming our messages around the phrase – “No Pain – No Gain” as we try to understand why Easter matters. I think most of us get it, that Easter is not just about bunnies and chocolate eggs and such, but rather it’s a remembrance and a celebration that Jesus Christ died and rose again to life. That part is pretty well understood I think – especially if you’ve had any connection with church for any length of time.

But what might not be so universally understood is why that matters. Why is it important to you and I,  that some 2000 years ago, a man named Jesus died and came back to life again? What difference does it make in your life today?

That’s what we’ve been trying to wrap out heads around in this series – No Pain, No Gain – Why Easter Matters.

And I think we’re starting to get an idea of the gain side of the equation. In our first message, we identified that one thing that everyone of us wants – but very few of us find. And that is complete and lasting satisfaction.

We can certainly be satisfied for a few moments here and there. There is an element of satisfaction in many pursuits in life – from accomplishing great things, or having fun and exciting experiences, enjoying great food and great friends – these all give us a sense of satisfaction. But nothing is lasting. The satisfaction we do get quickly fades away and we’re forced to chase after something else – something more.

It’s like no matter how wonderful the meal is – we find we’re always hungry the next day. But what if we could find true, lasting satisfaction? Satisfaction that didn’t fade away. What if we could live in a state of being fully, completely satisfied in life?

Well, we discovered last week, that that’s exactly how God intended us to live. When God created Adam & Eve – he created them to live fully satisfied lives. He provided for their every need – both their physical needs as well as their spiritual and emotional needs. And for a time, Adam & Eve enjoyed the most satisfying life you can imagine.

Table of contents for No Pain, No Gain - Why Easter Matters

  1. Finding Satisfaction
  2. The Origin of Death
  3. The Substitute
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The Origin of Death

Last week we began a new Easter sermon series entitled “No Pain – No Gain: Why Easter Matters”. And we started off illustrating the principle of no pain – no gain as we talked about how our muscles grow. We had Jake & Micah up here straining their muscles as we talked about how it takes the pain of tearing those muscle fibers in our bodies order for our bodies to repair the damage and make the muscles stronger than they were before. That’s how muscles grow.

But our purpose wasn’t to talk about body-building. There is a spiritual truth that we wanted to discover. Somehow all this talk of straining our muscles in order to grow strong, somehow that ties in with the meaning of Easter – believe it or not. And though we haven’t fully laid that all out yet, last Sunday we tried to define the gain that we’re talking about in this catch phrase “no pain, no gain”.

Of course, we’re not trying to gain muscles in this instance, but rather the gain that we’re after is something that every person on the planet wants – it’s that sense of deep, inner satisfaction in life that seems so elusive for so many of us.

We talked about how Solomon tried to find satisfaction in all kinds of ways. He looked for satisfaction in wealth, power, hard work, women, pleasure – but he found it all to be meaningless. Nothing gave him true, lasting satisfaction.

The Rolling Stones echoed that sentiment. They couldn’t get no satisfaction either – even though they tried and they tried and they tried and they tried. They just couldn’t get no satisfaction.

And I think most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves – would have to agree that money, fame, pleasure, power and all those things we chase after – while they may be pretty exciting for awhile – none of them give us deep, lasting satisfaction.

And we got a hint of why that is in Ecclesiastes 3:11 – which says..

[God] has planted eternity in the human heart. Ecclesiastes 3:11

In other words, there is this built-in awareness that there is more to life than the here and now. We exist for a much more significant purpose than to just gather wealth, power, and prestige for the 80 years we live on this planet.

God has created within each of us with a deep inner longing to fulfill out our eternal purpose. And until we discover and live out that purpose, every person on earth has this inner feeling that something is missing in their life. And all of us try to find that missing thing just like Solomon did. We chase wealth, power, pleasure, control, or whatever else that we think will fill that need… But something is always lacking. Like the Rolling Stones lament, we can’t get no satisfaction in those things. Because true satisfaction is only found when fulfill our eternal purpose.

And the Bible tells us that we are created and designed to be connected with our Creator – to have a genuine, loving relationship with Him. That’s what we’re created for. That’s our eternal purpose – to be unconditionally loved, to be accepted and embraced by our Creator, and to live in loving community with Him. That’s our purpose. That’s when we find real, lasting satisfaction.

This is the only thing worth gaining. Because everything else is temporary. We compared our life to the game of monopoly – when the game is over, it all goes back in the box. When our life here on earth is over, none of our wealth, the pleasure we’ve enjoyed, or our great achievements – none of that matters. All that matters then, is our relationship with our Creator.

And we closed last Sunday with a good news/bad news. The good news of course, is that God wants us to find satisfaction. He’s not out out trying to make your life miserable or difficult – but He wants you to find ultimate satisfaction in Him. He wants you to have true joy and delight – not just temporary pleasure. It pains God to see us settle for just a few fleeting moments of fun and pleasure here on earth – while missing out on an eternity of joy and delight with Him.

And that leads us into the bad news. And we didn’t have the time to talk about this last week, but talk about it we must.

Even though life with God is what we are created for and we simply cannot find satisfaction in any other way – most people will never know that satisfaction. By default, there is a barrier that keeps us from that satisfaction. It’s not an impassible barrier, (as we’re going to find out next week) – but it is the one thing that keeps us from fully realizing the satisfaction and joy and delight that God created us for.

So to understand this barrier that keeps us from the satisfaction that we were created to enjoy, I want to take us right back to the beginning of time – back before this barrier existed.

The Bible opens with a brief account of Creation. We certainly don’t get all the details, but it includes enough to give us a vivid picture of what life on earth was like for the very first humans – who were of course, Adam & Eve.

Table of contents for No Pain, No Gain - Why Easter Matters

  1. Finding Satisfaction
  2. The Origin of Death
  3. The Substitute
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Finding Satisfaction

I think I’ve mentioned before that when Heather & I were first married, I spent one spring working out at the Meadowbrook greenhouse just west of Penhold here. For the first two weeks of that job, when I came home from work at night, my body was sore. I was just carrying around these fairly light trays of plants, but I was using muscles that I didn’t usually use – straining them beyond their usual capabilities. But after about two weeks, I wasn’t really sore anymore. My body repaired the damage done and built up my muscles so they could handle that strain without issue.

And this is exact where this saying of “no pain – no gain” comes from. Without the pain that comes from straining your muscles, you will have no gain in strength. And so we often do this on purpose – (well, some people do). We call this exercise – or working-out. We purposely bring on this pain in our muscles so that we can grow in strength. A certain amount of pain is required if you want to gain muscle.

Well over the next few weeks, I want to use this catch phrase of ‘no pain, no gain’ as a way to remind us of what Easter is all about. At this time of year, most North Americans start thinking about eggs, bunnies, and chocolate – but of course, there is much more to Easter than that. And so over these next few weeks, I want to talk about what Easter is all about and why Easter matters. And I’ve titled this series “No Pain – No Gain.” Because this principle is true not just when it comes to our building our muscles – but it’s true when it comes to understanding the significance of Easter.

So the two big ideas I want to tackle over the next couple of weeks is the idea of pain and the idea of gain. I imagine most of you didn’t come here today to learn about body-building, so what is the ‘gain’ that we are looking for (if we’re not talking about gaining muscles) – and what is the ‘pain’ that leads to that gain? And of course, how does that all tie into Easter?

Well, let’s start by defining the ‘gain’ – that’ll be our focus for today.

And to do that, I want to start by taking a brief look in Ecclesiastes. Now Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon and for much of the book, he writes about all the things that he tried to do to find meaning in life. Now keep in mind that King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived.

Table of contents for No Pain, No Gain - Why Easter Matters

  1. Finding Satisfaction
  2. The Origin of Death
  3. The Substitute
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