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Doing God’s Work

There’s a short film called “Godspeed” that I watched recently and it’s all about this Pastor, Matt, who ended up moving to and pastoring in a tiny community in rural Scotland. And while he is there, to make a long story short, he learns the value of slowing down, learning to really know and be known by the people around him, and he learns to participate with God in the slow work of changing lives through relationships. And I watched this film back in January and I am still processing the implications for my life. It’s had a significant impact on me and I’ve debated showing you the whole film in place of a sermon, but I’ve opted not to do that today – perhaps that’ll be part of a Bible study in the fall or something.

But at the end of the film, there’s a short epilogue. After spending 13 years in Scotland, learning to operate at Godspeed, Matt moved back to America and began pastoring a church in small city in central Washington. And the film closes with how Matt is now, along with his new congregation, trying to figure out how to live the slower, more relational “Godspeed” life in the midst of the fast paced, non-stop culture of America. Life in urban America is very different from life in rural Scotland, so how do these principles translate and apply in this culture?

And that actually sounds a bit like what we’ve been doing here for the past several weeks. About a month ago we began going through this series called “Kingdom Living” and we’ve been trying to figure out how do we live differently in the Kingdom of God while still living in this world. What does it look like for citizens of the Kingdom of God to live right here here in Alberta, Canada in 2018 in the midst of a very worldly culture & society? Because just like how rural Scotland is very different from urban America – the Bible describes life in the Kingdom of God as being very different from life in the kingdom of this world.

So far, we’ve looked at two major contrasts between these two kingdoms. The first contrast was how our western culture today is increasingly individualistic and me-centered. Selfies are our main way of expressing ourselves. The question everyone asks is “What’s best for me? – Not, “What’s best for us?” But in the kingdom of God, we are called to put others first and to sacrifice for the good of one another. 

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An Economy of Abundance

This week, for the first time since living in Penhold, we planted a garden. I mean, last year we did plant a little flowerbed with a few veggies in it, but we’ve never had a real garden space at this house until this year. Which has been has been bit disappointing to us – previously we’ve always had large gardens and we love fresh peas and corn and carrots and beans and all that. But landscaping is always a multi-year process (for us anyway) – everything takes time and we just hadn’t gotten to the point where we were ready for the garden. But finally, this year, having dug up our entire backyard anyway, we were finally ready to plant a garden.

So that’s what we did on Saturday and now we’re all pretty excited to watch those tiny little seeds sprout and grow and then ultimately produce a whole bunch of really good things to eat! 

And it’s always amazing to me how one little seed produces so much! For example, if you plant just one little bean seed, that little bean seed will grow and produce a plant with about 20 bean pods – and each of those pods hold about 6 beans – so that’s roughly 120 beans produced by planting one little bean seed. That’s a pretty good return on investment! You plant 1 and get 120 back!

Corn is even better. You plan one little kernel of corn and you get a plant with at least one (maybe even 2 or 3) corn cobs with each having between 500-1200 kernels each! That’s a really impressive return!

Tomatoes are even more amazing. In each average-sized tomato, there are between 150-300 seeds. That’s per tomato – and each tomato plant grows a lot of tomatoes! Now we probably wouldn’t get this with our short growing season, but in the commercial greenhouses, one tomato vine will grow about 200 tomatoes in a season. So even at 150 seeds per tomato, that’s 30,000 seeds all produced from one little tomato seed. Incredible.

And then, just as one final example, consider an apple seed. If you plant one single apple seed, you can grow a beautiful apple tree. That apple tree, once’s it’s fully mature, will produce on average (depending on the variety) about 500 apples each year. Each of those 500 apples will hold about 10 seeds – so that 5,000 seeds per year. Now perhaps that’s not as impressive as the 30,000 tomato seeds, but this apple tree will continue producing these apples year after year for at least 20 years or more. That means, that over the lifetime of that apple tree – from one little apple seed – will grow over 100,000 other apple seeds.

And I bring all this up because I think it’s a wonderful illustration of how the economy of God is an economy of abundance. And I’ll explain what I mean by that in just a minute, but first, let me back up and remind us all of what we’ve been talking about for the past several weeks.

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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.

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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.

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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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