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Preoccupied with the Kingdom

Nearly three months ago we began looking at how life in the kingdom of God is very different from the life in the kingdom of this world. We’ve used the analogy of immigrating to another country – you have to learn a new language, a new culture, a new set of values, there are new laws – you even use new currency – it’s all very different.

In a similar way, Paul tells us that when we chose to follow Christ, we were transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. Colossians 1:13 says…

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 1:13-14

As followers of Jesus, we now live in a new kingdom – one that operates very differently from what we’re used to. And making this transition is not easy. In many ways, actual immigration would be much easier. If we could physically immigrate to the kingdom of God, I’m sure it would be a shock at first, but you’d quickly pick up these new values and new ways of doing things because everyone around you would be living that way – you’d be surrounded by this new culture and of course, that would reinforcing those ideas and values and ways of doing things.

But as it is, even though we are now citizens of heaven (as Paul tells us), we still live right here in the midst of the kingdom of the world and so learning to live differently is very challenging for us. More and more our Canadian culture and values do not line up with the values and the culture of the kingdom of God, so it can be a real challenge to live as citizens of heaven while still present in this world. And that’s why we are instructed in Romans 12:2…

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

And so that’s been our main goal for this message series – we want to let God transform us into new people by changing the way we think – the way we think about our time, the way we think about our money, the way we think about our relationships and so on and so forth. So hopefully, over the past couple months as we’ve looked at a variety of issues, you’ve been challenged to change the way you think in some of these areas and you’ve learned a little more about God’s will for you – which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Today we want to conclude our Kingdom Living series. There’s always more that could be said, but I think we’ll end today with a summary of everything we’ve already talked about.

If I were to wrap up everything we’ve talked about and put it into a short, concise statement, I would say that Kingdom Living means living a life centered around God.

One of the popular phrases today in Christianese these days is this term “Christ-centered”. A quick amazon search brought up variety of books such as…

 

  • Christ-Centered Preaching
  • Christ-Centered Parenting
  • Celebrating a Christ-Centered Christmas
  • Christ-Centered Worship
  • Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling
  • A Christ-Centered Wedding
  • Christ-Centered Biblical Theology
  • Christ-Centered Therapy

 

There’s all kinds of stuff… And that all sounds really good. Being Christ-Centered sounds like a good Christian concept – but what exactly does it mean? 

I did a word search in the Bible – but I found that the Bible never actually uses that phrase “Christ-centered” anywhere – not even in the message Bible. So where do we get this idea and what does it really mean?

Well, what really helped me understand what it means to be “Christ-Centered” is actually another similar phrase that I’m sure all of us know very well.

It’s the phrase: Self-centered

Now that’s a phrase we understand, isn’t it? We know what it means to be self-centered. We’ve got personal experience with that, don’t we?

The dictionary has a simple definition for being self-centered. It means to be “preoccupied with oneself and one’s affairs”. 

I think by that definition, all of us – at some points in our life – are self-centered. Even our littlest babies – the youngest ones among us are self-centered. When my kids were babies, they only seemed to think about themselves. They cried when they were hungry – they cried when they were tired. Not once did my kids cry because I was hungry! Not once did they cry because I was tired. 

As babies, my kids were totally preoccupied with themselves and their own affairs.

Of course, I say that tongue in cheek, because we don’t really expect babies to act any differently. We all did the exact same thing! But that’s just it. We are all hardwired from birth to think about ourselves before anyone else. We’re born that way. We are born at the center of our universe. We are naturally self-centered. 

Think about your typical day – what do you find yourself thinking about? What are you preoccupied with? The vast majority of it revolves around you and things that affect you. You think about your work, about your to-do list, about your kids, about your future, your dreams and goals, your disappointments, and all that stuff that concerns you… 

For example, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the health and wellness of your neighbor. There’s certainly occasional exceptions, but most of the time, you think about your own health – especially when your own health is lacking. I know when I’m laying sick in bed, I’m not thinking about the well-being of anybody else. I’m laying there feeling sorry for me! I am preoccupied with my own, personal health – no one else’s. I am self-centered.

But that’s how we all operate. We are self-centered by nature. Our worlds revolve around us.

And if you don’t believe me – let me give you the impossible challenge. Here is the impossible challenge and I extend this challenge to every kid & teenager here: Try going just one day without using the words – I, me, or mine! Unless you stop talking to anyone, I bet you, no one could do it. In fact, I’d give a case of Pepsi to any kid or teenager here who can go one full day without using the words I, me or mine. If you think you can and you want to take me up on my challenge, you gotta tell me after church and tell your parents so they can verify it whether you did or not, – but I bet no one can do it!

We’re just too self-centered. Our worlds revolve around us.

But with that understanding of what it means to be self-centered – I think we get a better idea of what it means to be Christ-centered.

Being Christ-centered means we’re not at the center of our universe – Christ is. Instead of being preoccupied with ourself and our affairs, being Christ-centered means we are preoccupied with Christ and Christ’s affairs. That’s a significant difference, isn’t it? 

In Colossians chapter 3, verses 1-3 Paul tells us:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:1-3

In other words, Paul is telling us to be preoccupied with Christ and His affairs. We are to think about and be preoccupied with the things of heaven – not of earth. The bulk of most people’s thoughts revolve around “How do I get what I need? How do I get what I want?” Those are the dominating topics of what we think about. “How do I get what I need? How do I get what I want?”

We talked about how little babies only are only concerned for their own well-being – they cry when their hungry, they cry when they’re tired – and that’s ok for babies – but for maturing Christians, that’s not the kind of stuff we need to be preoccupied with. Jesus said in Matthew 6:31…

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Matthew 6:31-33

This is really the heart of Kingdom Living. We don’t have to be self-centred because God has promised already to take care of our needs. We are free to be Christ-centered, and to put our focus on what really matters! We can be preoccupied with Christ and the affairs of Christ – the kingdom of God. That’s what it means to be Christ-centered. It means our world doesn’t have to revolve around us – around our needs, our wants, our goals, our ambitions. Instead – as we trust our good God to take care of all that stuff, our world can revolve around Christ. 

As Christians, our calling is to make much of Jesus. To make Him famous. To bring Him glory. To advance His kingdom. You can’t do that when your primary focus is on yourself. 

And I think it’s important that we stop and take inventory of our lives every once in a while. Is my life Christ-centered or self-centered? Does my life revolve around Christ? Do I seek the kingdom of God above all else – or do I seek the kingdom of Dave sometimes? Is it all about Christ, or is it, more often than not, all about me?

There’s a couple people in the Bible that I think are amazing examples of how to centered your life around Christ. Paul was one of them. For Paul – life was all about pointing people to Christ. Whether he was in singing in the prison or sharing the Gospel while on trial or preaching in the temple or if he was ship-wretched somewhere at sea – He was always pointing to Jesus.

And I think we get a hint of why that is in Philippians 3:8. Paul writes…

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him.

Philippians 3:8-9a

Knowing Christ was the more important thing to Paul. He said that everything else in life was rubbish – it was garbage compared to knowing Christ. Jesus had become more important to him than the comforts of life, more important than having status and position in society, more important than even life itself.

And if knowing Christ was so valuable to Paul, it’s no wonder everything Paul said and did pointed to Jesus. Christ was everything to him. He was preoccupied with Christ and his affairs.

As I reflect on my life, I have to wonder – am I so preoccupied with Christ that my life constantly points others to Jesus like Paul did? 

  • As I interact with the people in my community – does my life point them to Jesus?
  • When I discipline and raise up my kids, do my words and actions point them to Jesus?
  • As I Heather & I share our life together, do the things I say and do in our home point her to Jesus?
  • When my neighbor observes my life from across the fence, does what He sees point Him to Jesus?

Because that’s what it means to be Christ-centered – everything about my life points others to Jesus Christ. 

John the Baptist is the other Bible character that I think really exemplifies a Christ-centered life.

In the Gospel of John chapter three, we read a story that happens a short time after John the Baptist had baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. It seems that some of John’s disciples were getting a little bit concerned that some of the people who used to follow John were now starting to follow this Jesus fellow instead. In John 3:26 it says…

John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.” John 3:26

You can kinda hear the concern in their voice. “This Jesus guy is cutting in on our territory. He’s going around baptizing people and everyone is going to him instead of coming to us.”

But I love what John the Baptist says in reply. In verse 28, John replies…

You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’29 It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. 

And then John says this:

30 He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

John 3:27-30

That should be the motto of every Christian – Jesus must become greater and greater – and I must become less and less.

John was not concerned with building his own kingdom. He wasn’t trying to make a name for himself. He understood that his job was to simply point others to Jesus. He was filled with joy at Jesus’ success because he understood that Jesus must become greater and greater and he had to become less and less.

Is that how I live? Is that my attitude towards Christ and his kingdom? That He must become greater and I must become less? I’d like to think that’s my attitude, but I’m not sure that’s always the reality.

There are times when I’m not even willing to risk some social awkwardness to point others to Christ. There are times when I have an opportunity to say something about Christ or his work in my life, but I shy away from that because of the risk that it might not be received well. That doesn’t sound to me like I’m preoccupied with Christ and his affairs. That sounds a little more me-centered than Christ-centered.

And so that makes me ask the question and I’d encourage you to ask it as well: In your life, who is at the center? Are you self-centered or are you Christ-centered? Who’s kingdom are you seeking?

And I don’t ask that to make you feel guilty or to convict you into trying harder. Because I don’t think it’s a matter of trying harder. Being either self-centred or Christ-centered is really a reflection of our beliefs.  We will always act according to our beliefs – not necessarily what we say we believe – but what we actually believe. We will always act in line with what we truly believe.

And this takes us right back to the verse we started with this morning.

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

When we change the way we think, we change the way we live.

Paul at one time, believed that he was doing good by persecuting Christians – throwing them into jail and putting them to death. But then one day, God transformed him into a new person by changing the way he thought. God’s encounter with Paul totally changed what he believed. And as a result, Paul’s life was completely transformed. 

By the time Paul wrote the his letter to the Philippians, he truly believed that everything else in life was worthless compared to knowing Christ – and as a result of that thinking, everything he did in life was centered around Christ. He couldn’t help but continually point others to Jesus.

And that’s really the difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world – it’s a difference of beliefs. Kingdom Living is impossible without a change of beliefs.

But God is in the business of changing our beliefs. God can totally transform us into new people by changing the way we think.

God has given us the truth of his Word. God has also given us the truth of His living Word – His Son Jesus Christ. And He uses both of those to transform us from the inside out. 

As we study God’s Word and we spend time with the Living Word, we begin to learn and truly believe the truth of God, and as a result, we begin to live differently. As we discovered that God is actually a much better king than we are, we happily begin to submit our life to Him and we eagerly follow his ways because we’re convinced that His ways are best.

It happens automatically. Changed beliefs leads to changed living. Kingdom Living is the direct result of God changing the way we think – changing what we believe from lies to truth.

So by way of a conclusion this morning, I’m not going to tell you to go home and try harder to put Christ at the centre of your life. Because if He’s not there already, there’s a reason for that. There’s a belief that you hold that keeps yourself in the centre of your universe. The way we live always reflects our beliefs.

So instead, I would challenge you to invite God to change your beliefs. Allow God to transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Get to know the truth about who God is and how God designed life to work. This is a life-long process. We need to continually learn and experience how different, but how good life in the kingdom of God is. As we will learn to know God’s will for us,  we will discovery that His will actually is good and pleasing and perfect.

And the result of all of that is that we come to see that knowing Christ is the most valuable thing we can do. All the other pursuits of life in comparison, are rubbish. We will be convinced that Jesus must become greater and we must become less. We will insist that Jesus take centre stage in our life and we won’t be able to stop pointing others towards Him.

That’s truly what Kingdom Living is all about. It’s a God-centered life that is the natural result of God transforming our lives by changing the way we think.

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