Advancing the Conversation of Jesus
A personal encounter with Jesus will change all that you are and all that you do, even if you are a "Christian". I believe Jesus apprehended my life several years ago as a long-time Christian, seminary graduate and pastor. I had always loved Jesus and taught about him in the ministry opportunities that were laid out for me. But in this encounter, there is a difference!
- Instead of being intent on teaching it properly and effectively, I am more intent on obeying Jesus. · Instead of doing, doing, doing as well as I can do, I am into being, being, being who Jesus has made me to be. · Instead of building the church of Jesus, I am disciplining myself to be the church of Jesus. · Instead of playing a role or wearing the mask that befits a religious position, I am bent on being real and authentic.
- Instead of trying to reach the masses with another "powerful" message, I am now more interested in investing my time with a few. · Instead of exercising my life over what "my" purpose is, I am exercising myself toward loving God with all my heart and loving my neighbors as myself. · Instead of deceiving myself into thinking I have some "messianic" touch to help people, I introduce them to the only one who can change their lives—JESUS. · Instead of just going to church, I am now practicing being the church in every gathering of believers in his name.
- Instead of frantically trying to change the world by Wednesday noon, I now understand that the call of Jesus on my life is a call into his rest. · Instead of making disciples out of Christians, I see that the best potential disciples are made out of non-Christians. · Instead of hanging out with the religious crowd, I am hanging out with revolutionaries.
- Instead of doing life as the Lone Ranger, I am now doing life with a few others. · Instead of counting the variety of churches in the world, I now see there is only one church—the church of Jesus—and it pops up in every culture of the world. · Instead of doing things my way for Jesus, I am now waiting on Jesus to lead out with his orders and opportunities—to do things his way in his time.
But here's the bottom-line that you will continue to see more and more clearly as you walk with Jesus, walk with others and wait on Jesus to lead out: Your relationship with Jesus—walking with Jesus as your best friend—is the most important relationship of all. You see, I count on those I'm walking with to be working on their relationship with Jesus and they are counting on me for the same thing. Without a relationship with Jesus there is no power or dynamic in walking with others. And, without Jesus there is no need to wait for Jesus to lead out. Just being religious will always be empty and unfruitful. Being in relationship with Jesus is the only way to be fulfilled and fruitful.
I say it this way: Jesus is simply enough! Jesus plus nothing.
Over the centuries there has been a "Christianizing" effect placed on Jesus in such a way that Jesus has been diminished and even caricaturized throughout the world. In other words, I think one of the most damaging things that has ever happened to Jesus is that he has been Christianized to the point that he has become unrecognizable in most circles.
Much of this Christianizing effect has been passed on by what I call the Christian rumor. These rumors are taught and re-taught as "truth" with little question as to its veracity. Since we've been taking a fresh look at Jesus, we are amazed and shocked at what we've been simply accepting as the "truth" throughout the years without questioning or thinking.
When I was speaking on university campuses around the country, the frequent byline we used was: "Christianity isn't a religion; it's a relationship!" All of us who used this mantra were right in our thinking. What we were presenting was not a religious system of do's and don'ts; we were presenting a personal relationship with God through Jesus. Yes, we were right in our thinking, but our practice was way off base. As soon as a person expressed interest and faith in Jesus we instantly moved them into a church and taught them that they must be very religious. The personal relationship did not remain the focus. The Person of Jesus was the door and once inside, the focus shifted to a list of do's and don'ts to check off and a set of beliefs to embrace. I watched this happen time after time in how we "discipled" others and then I saw it in my own empty life. Jesus was missing to a great extent; religion was in.
There is certainly nothing wrong with growing up in a Christian culture. It's through this culture that I found Jesus. But for me to think that it is the only culture the Creator-God created or cares about is the peak of haughtiness that God hates.
Package this Christian cultural expression of man as the only way to find God, requiring all other cultures to bow down and become a Christian, then you have essentially declared war on all other peoples, cultures and religions of the world. This is why Christians sing "Onward Christian soldiers" going off to war. The battle is not so much against the Evil One as it has become against all those who are not yet Christians. It's no wonder the non-Christian world deeply resents and hates the "Christian West". You see, Christianity isn't the way to God; Jesus is. Therefore Jesus must be separated from Christianity, so that he can be lifted up and relate most clearly to the other cultures of the world.
Even in the Old Testament Scriptures the Jewish people had strayed so far away from a heart relationship with God. It was so bad that God, who set up an elaborate sacrificial system to be followed, said, "I don't want your sacrifices, but would rather have your heart of compassion." It seems to be man's nature to drift away from a personal relationship and become more and more religious. When Jesus is placed in the Christian box, he is effectively removed from the possibility of relating to all other cultures.
Christ is not a good and effective substitute for Jesus. The name of Jesus can stand on its own.
Let me illustrate how important the name of Jesus is with the calling of Paul. Paul had a role in life—to persecute the followers of the Way. The Way believed Jesus was the promised Messiah. Paul was a believer in the Messiah and he was looking for the Messiah, the Christ. In a sense, you could call him a Christian—a follower of the Christ, the Messiah. So, since he wasn't buying into the Messiahship of Jesus, he did all he could do to stop the efforts of the Way—the followers of Jesus. He saw this as his role in life and played it very well. In fact, he felt he was quite righteous about what he was doing. But Jesus apprehended him. When Jesus comes into your life, He takes you out of your role of false self and brings about a spirit of authenticity to you and your lifestyle. You can't cover up and play a role, when Jesus is leading out.
NOTE the words God spoke to Ananias about Paul. This is significant: "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear MY NAME before the GENTILES, KINGS, and the SONS OF ISRAEL, for I will show him how much he must suffer for MY NAME'S sake."
Four things stand out here to me in this encounter: FIRST—When Paul was struck down with blindness on the road to Damascus, he asked “Who are you Lord?” Then Jesus did something amazing. He introduced himself to Paul. He didn’t say, “I’m Christ.” He didn’t say, “I’m Jesus Christ.” He didn’t say, “I’m the Lord Jesus Christ.” He said to Paul: “I am Jesus.”
SECOND—It's all about the NAME OF JESUS. This was most important to the Lord—that Paul bear the NAME OF JESUS. This is what is most important for us today! We are not commanded to spread Christianity or any other religious system nor church membership, but only and primarily the NAME OF JESUS.
THIRD—Who was the target of Paul's ministry to be? NOTE it was the Gentiles, their kings and the sons of Israel. It is not what is normally taught that Peter was the apostle to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles. There was a much larger picture going on here, where Paul was to take the name of Jesus to the world.
FOURTH—The transformation of Paul, the persecutor of the people of Jesus, into Paul, the proclaimer of Jesus, was very dramatic and obvious. After spending several days with the disciples of Jesus who were in Damascus, he began to proclaim the NAME OF JESUS in the synagogues. Even more than proclaiming Jesus, Paul was confidently proving that Jesus was the Messiah. The people were shocked!
NOTE that Paul was caught up in doctrinal issues about the Messiah (the Christ), but was not connected to the Person of the Messiah. This is the same problem we encounter today. We spend so much time in doing the "right things" and miss the right Person—Jesus.
The name of Jesus is what is most important, not the name of Christ. It’s in the name of Jesus that people are healed and at the name of Jesus that every knee someday will bow. This is why I call myself a follower of Jesus, not a follower of Christ. Jesus is his name and Christ is a title. To be a follower of Christ, most people of the world will believe you are a Christian. To be a follower of Jesus is to make your relationship personal. The person is Jesus.
As I have mentioned earlier, much of this Christianizing effect has been passed on by what I call the Christian rumor. These rumors are taught and re-taught as "truth" with little question as to its veracity. Since we've been taking a fresh look at Jesus, we are amazed and shocked at what we've been simply accepting as the "truth" throughout the years without questioning or thinking.
Many of the Christian "rumors" taught falsely are about Paul. Here’s one. I've heard all my life that "Saul was his Jewish name before he became a Christian and Paul was his Christian name." It's just not true. If that were true, then Paul ought to be called Paul throughout the rest of the book of Acts. But he is not. Saul and Paul are used interchangeably throughout. I think this devilish little mis-truth is one of many little ways to keep us off message. Saul was the Jewish way of saying Paul and Paul was his Roman name. Paul (Saul) was still Jewish, after bowing his heart to Jesus. Jesus doesn't change your cultural background, when he enters your life. He transforms you inside out with all your cultural quirks and nooks and crannies.
Another series of Christian rumors has to do with the authors of the New Testament books. Most believe Paul is the author of I & II Thessalonians. Why? Because it is written in by the translator/editor of a given publication (King James, NIV, etc.), everyone believes that Paul is the author. But that is not what the Scriptures say. It is clear in the very first verse that Paul, Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy were the authors. This seems a little picky, until you realize that these three men in fellowship with one another had amazing results in this city. The attraction was not the mighty giftedness of one man, Paul, but it was the power of Jesus showing up among the three men as they walked together in the name of Jesus. He always promises to show up. That's a revolutionary message for us today. It’s the blueprint for worldwide revolution! Instead of operating alone, be careful to walk with a few. Where two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus, he will show up in their midst.
By the way, this happens throughout the New Testament. Paul alone didn’t write I & II Corinthians. Paul and Sosthenes, probably the former Synagogue leader in Corinth, wrote I Corinthians. Paul and Timothy wrote II Corinthians.
Paul and all the brethren with him wrote Galatians. Paul and Timothy wrote Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. Even the book of Jude was co-written with James. When you think in terms of Paul co-writing so many of the books, there is a subtle teaching about the power of working in two’s and three’s.
So, how has Paul risen to such fame as the author of the New Testament? I’ll share my opinion tomorrow.
The result of these "Christian rumors" is to be practicing a man-made twisting of what was intended in the first place. This distracts us into putting our emphases and focus on a series of "add-ons" that really don't matter. However, they do matter! To think that Saul was a non-Christian, then was converted to be a Christian, and was given a Christian name, ties up this little untruth into a Christian rumor that communicates a horrible thought about Jesus becoming a Christian. I am more and more convinced than ever that Jesus never wanted to become a Christian anyway.
Yesterday I said I would comment on why I believe most of the books of the New Testament are attributed to Paul. Briefly, I think it is clearer than ever before that Jesus is viewed more as the figurehead of Christianity and Paul as the founder.
Strangely enough many people in the USA and lots more in the cultures of the world believe the Christian rumor that Jesus founded Christianity. It’s as if this was his intent and his purpose. This identification is a man-made connection between Jesus and Christianity. When the Christian Church became an organization, Christianity became Christendom. The organized Church provides lots of services for the consumer, but it wasn’t what Jesus intended. In Jesus’ time there already was an organized Church in existence—the Synagogue. He didn’t speak against it, but only against its leadership.
One of the prevalent observations I see that shows me Jesus is not the founder and not even the active centerpiece of Christianity is how often Jesus is left out or missing from the activities and message of the Church. Jesus commonly is left out of the Christian, religious, expression of faith. When I spoke at the major Dalai Lama event, those who were set up to represent Christianity didn’t even mention Jesus one time.
One of my hobbies is to read over Christian newsletters and prayer letters to see if Jesus made the editorial cut. It is amazing how many times Jesus is left out of their expression of what their ministry really is. Just recently a major article was published in a secular magazine about a visible and prominent Christian leader and his plan to change the world. Sadly, Jesus never made it into any part of the plan nor did Jesus even receive honorable mention.
Jesus never intended to build a large organizational structure or a large religious institution. Even though the Church experience might be through authentic worship and exceptional messages, the once-a-week “show” just isn’t what Jesus intended. They already had this experience in the Synagogue. There’s nothing wrong with it; it’s just not what Jesus came to found. Jesus came to launch a viral movement of his followers who were not only faithful to gather together for the joint 80 minute gathering, but to walk together throughout the entire 10,080 minutes of the week!
Paul might be considered the founder, shaper of Christianity; Jesus was not!
Jesus came to launch the Jesus movement, consisting of followers of Jesus, from every culture of the world, who love God and love one another, and who are intent on re-presenting Jesus in their personal lives, always living out the question: “What can I do to help?”
Christianity is filled with spectators. The Jesus movement is so dynamic and participatory. Jesus is the founder of it, the director of it and the motivating factor throughout, as Jesus extends his amazing challenge and summons: “Follow me!” This is how the Jesus movement moves into action.
One of the most shocking and prevalent Christian rumors today is that the most powerful force of God and for God is the Church. I was into this rumor in a big way for most of my life. Then, I had an encounter with Jesus.
It wasn’t that Jesus knocked me down and struck me blind, shining a bright light of understanding in my face. Nothing like that at all! This rumor was made clear to me as I determined to read only the 5 Gospels for three years—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts. In other words, after Jesus apprehended my heart personally, I wanted to only read and listen to him for an extended period of time.
This was one of the first things I realized as I focused only on Jesus and his teachings. I came to a shocking reality. Jesus only mentioned the term “church” on two occasions. Did you hear me? Jesus only spoke about church on two occasions. In other words, the church is not a big focus or emphasis for Jesus.
And when Jesus did use the term “church”, he certainly was not referring to the organized, institution of Church we experience today. At best, Jesus was referring to the active movement of followers he was gathering. On one of these two occasions, Jesus definitely had in mind this powerful, yet invisible, movement of followers. On the other occasion, he was referencing a visible small group of followers who were in a community together, walking with one another and supporting one another. So why is it that Jesus didn’t spend much time on it? And, why is it that we seem to spend most of our energies on it? Church planting, Church growth, and Church conferences on how to be better and more effective Churches. This, to me, is a great disconnect!
Instead of teaching his followers about the Church, Jesus spent most of his time teaching them about the Kingdom. Remember, Jesus came to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near, here, and among you all. Jesus was teaching this most amazing insight of the invisible Kingdom of God. This may be the primary reason that we spend so much time on the Church rather than the Kingdom. The Church is visible and the Kingdom is invisible! It’s just easier to handle the tangible. Tomorrow I want to demonstrate the differences between the two forces—the Church and the Kingdom.
You may not think this is a very big deal, but Jesus did. Think about it! After Jesus’ resurrection, he chose to spend 40 days with his early followers. He did so in order to prove to them that it was really him who had died and was resurrected. And, he spent the entire time teaching them only one topic. The Kingdom of God. (Acts 1)
Then, when Paul was at the end of his life under house arrest and living in Rome, he welcomed seekers and followers in for discussion. Twice it is mentioned that Paul had a two-fold message for all who came. The message?
Jesus and the Kingdom of God! (Acts 28) What’s your primary message?
As Jesus moved into his famous teaching method of parables or story telling, he refers to the knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven. Secrets is translated from the term “mysteries” or “the secret plan of God”, which Jesus says, have been given to these early followers. By the way, only God can reveal these secrets. While parables illustrate truths, some require knowledge of the meaning to understand the parable. Those who are hungry for this knowledge will, as the disciples did, seek it out. The others, who don't have a particular spiritual hunger, will not.
Let’s listen in on what Jesus said: He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:11-17)
The essence of the secrets of the Kingdom is to be found in those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. At the end of Matthew 7 Jesus says this well in illustrating those who are doing the will of the Father, when he teaches about two foundations. “Those who hear my words and practice them” build on a rock foundation and “those who hear my words and don’t practice them” build on a sand foundation. NOTE Jesus isn’t speaking of the secrets of the Church, but the secrets of the Kingdom.
The differences between the Church and the Kingdom are many! You enter the Church by attendance and membership classes. You enter the Kingdom by following Jesus. The Church is limited in its local scope and reach; the Kingdom is unlimited and universal. The Church is visible; the Kingdom is invisible. You go to Church; the Kingdom goes wherever you go. The Church tends be an organization; the Kingdom tends to be a movement.
The Church is earthly; the Kingdom is more of a heaven-to-earth connection. Jesus never proclaimed the Church; Jesus continually proclaimed the Kingdom. He even called the Kingdom “the gospel of the Kingdom”, but never referred to the Church in this way.
The Church gathers and scatters; the Kingdom is always present with you. Jesus never says to seek the Church, but to seek first the Kingdom.
The Church may or many not grow, however the Kingdom is continually growing. Churches may shut down; the Kingdom cannot be shut down. The Church may or may not have God present; the Kingdom is God’s presence in us.
I don’t reject the Church with all of the good it does and has done around the world. I may or may not enter the Church as regularly as some. What I want more than anything else is to enter the Kingdom, enjoy the King’s presence and invite others to enter.
Jesus has definite ideas regarding who is going to get into the Kingdom and who will not. Although Christians have boiled everything down to believe and you'll go to heaven and don't believe and you'll go to hell, Jesus' concern seems to revolve more around entering or not entering the Kingdom of heaven. And, entering the Kingdom seems to be an immediate experience, since the presence of the Kingdom is a present reality according to Jesus. Jesus says the Kingdom is right here, right now!
This week I want to cover all of the times Jesus refers to what we must do to enter or not enter into the Kingdom. To enter the Kingdom of heaven or the Kingdom of God may be the closest thing Jesus ever says about "getting into heaven". As we’ve already discussed, the emphasis of Jesus is on the Kingdom and how to enter it right now. Each of these references provides significant insight into what Jesus counts as most important in order to get into the Kingdom.
The first reference is found in Jesus' first seminar in Matthew 5:20: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The requirement here seems really tough. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were known for their religious displays of righteousness.
Now, Jesus makes it clear that in order to enter the Kingdom of heaven, your righteousness must SURPASS that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. With all that Jesus teaches from here on out, I think what he means by surpass is to go beyond their levels of righteousness. To be more specific, I think what he requires is for righteousness to be INTERNAL with an emphasis on the heart rather than the EXTERNAL emphasis of the legalistic, letter of the law of the Pharisees. Their emphasis was to look good—to look and act religious and holy—to be seen by others as righteous. Jesus wants us to surpass that kind of righteousness by going internal or going deeper.
Three observations that come to mind here for me: 1. God looks on the heart; man looks on the outward appearance. So, if you want to please God, then pay attention to your heart's response to Him. 2. After developing a full sacrificial system, the Lord tells His people that He doesn't want their sacrifices any longer, but wants their heart of compassion. 3. Jesus wants us to first be people of the heart where we are allowing him to relate to us in a most personal and private way. All external actions should naturally flow out of that transformed heart. To Jesus, nothing else matters—nothing is more important.
Let me tell you how to enter the Kingdom according to Jesus. Focus your heart on a personal relationship with Jesus and make it your business to follow after him. And, don't allow yourself to be caught up in the religiosity of following a list or system of do's and don'ts, thinking that you are impressing God, while you are impressing others. Jesus makes it clear here that he is not impressed with this kind of thing, so don't you be!
If I have a choice as to whose word I'm going to accept as the ultimate truth—some bible teacher or Jesus, I'm going to choose Jesus' word every time. How about you? Do you want to enter the Kingdom, then you need a renewed focus and transformation of your heart. It’s a heart transplant surgery.
The second reference Jesus makes concerning entering the Kingdom is most powerful. It's found at the close of his first seminar in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
The context is fascinating! In the next paragraph it's clear what's going on. “Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” Jesus is referring to a group of apparent leaders or ministers who would naturally view themselves as believers, because of their actions. These "believers" are known for speaking in the name of Jesus, casting out demons in the name of Jesus and performing many miracles in Jesus' name. NOTE that Jesus rejects these so-called "believers" and says he doesn't even know them. Apparently, believing isn’t enough!
Jesus clarifies it here by saying "only those who do the will of my Father" will enter the Kingdom of heaven. No matter what you say or do in the name of Jesus, the most critical issue is whether or not you are doing the will of the Father. What does he mean by "doing the will of the Father"? NOTE Jesus isn't focusing on something to believe, but to do the will of the Father.
To me, the answer is in the next paragraph, where Jesus illustrates exactly what he means by "doing the will of My Father", when he says: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
I think it's clear that what he is saying, when he says, "doing the will of the Father", boils down to hearing Jesus' words and practicing them. This is simply following Jesus! So, there is something more important and vital than being a "believer" in Jesus. It's being a follower of Jesus, which is doing the will of the Father.
Now there is a belief factor in following as well. You must believe in Jesus enough to follow him—to hear his words and practice them. Jesus repeatedly reiterates this same thought. In the early chapters of Mark, Jesus' mother and a couple of other family members came to see him. Jesus uses this as an opportunity to teach a very important truth. He asks: "Who are my mother and my brothers?" Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."
NOTE the similarity to doing the will of the Father? Jesus says: "Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." We are considered the family of Jesus, when we are doers of the will of God.
So, do you want to enter the Kingdom? Then, do the will of the Father—keep on following Jesus. Whatever Jesus does and says to do, just do it!
All four Gospel writers record the third reference Jesus uses to show the way to be able to enter the Kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 18:3: And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Mark and Luke bear the same message.
Then, in the Gospel of John, in a very familiar interaction with Nicodemus, Jesus uses a little different metaphor to say the same thing. He says in John 3:5: "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit." He goes on to say: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit." Jesus is referring to being "born again" and means something different than what is normally believed. Being born again is not a salvation experience—a special faith event where a person passes from death to life. Being born again is just what it says. You are born all over again, so that you are like a little child again with all of the purity and simplicity of being this childlike person.
What does that mean to be childlike? A little child naturally trusts, knows very little, and is eager to mimic what he or she sees. In a very real sense, for an adult to become childlike is to be willing to unlearn and start over again with respect to what it means to follow Jesus and not remain dependent upon the religious system from which he or she originally came.
So, in the case of Nicodemus, who was probably the head of a rabbinical school, Jesus was challenging him to rethink his entire spiritual education—to start over and learn the ABC's of what it means to grow up spiritually into a personal relationship with God through his Messiah Jesus. Once a person turns from his ways and begins to act as a little child, then he is being born again.
A few weeks ago I had breakfast with a man who has rejected religion in the form of Christianity. As he says, "I just can't stand being approached by the 'born-againers' who keep trying to save me from going to hell." As we have been meeting together, he is becoming fascinated with trying to understand who Jesus really is. He continually tells me he knows nothing and wants to learn this Jesus lifestyle and the basics. As we discussed what it means to be born again, I suddenly realized that my friend was in the process of being born again. He's becoming like a little child with respect to spiritual things.
Becoming as a little child with Jesus means the following: 1. You don't know everything. 2. All that you have been taught needs to be stripped away. 3. You want to learn all you can about this new life with Jesus. 4. In order to learn more about the ABC's of walking with Jesus, it's most helpful to watch him carefully and mimic what you hear and see. 5. Learn to simply trust Jesus for your life—your strength, direction and future.
Adults think they know everything and have the ugly habit of trusting themselves. Children know they don't know everything, therefore they gladly develop the beautiful habit of simply trusting.
Do you want to enter the Kingdom of heaven? Become like a little child!
The fourth reference Jesus made concerning what it takes to enter or not enter the Kingdom of God has a couple of dimensions. Both of these dimensions here contain direct warnings toward the religious. The first dimension is in Matthew 21:32: Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him."
Beware of being so religious and self-righteous. Jesus became most disturbed and angry with those who didn't see their need for God—those who thought they were right and righteous because of their beliefs and practices. In this dimension Jesus points out that those who see their need most are the ones who are actually entering the Kingdom right now ahead of the religious and the righteous. In fact, he is not just saying that the most despised tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the Kingdom someday, but that they are entering right now!
The second dimension is in Matthew 23:13: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." Note the specifics of what Jesus is saying here. He is clearly saying that these religious leaders in positions of authority are not entering the Kingdom. He has made several observations at other times about the reasons why they will not enter the Kingdom, primarily the leading one is their religious pride—that they know it all and know they are right.
Now Jesus points out that these religious leaders who are not entering the Kingdom are also stopping others to enter by shutting the door of the Kingdom of heaven in their faces. How is this done? I think it's done by continually setting up certain restrictions and limitations on who can get in and who will not. I did this as a teenager. I had been taught that no one could come into a relationship with God, unless he goes down front at the altar call at the end of the service and confess Jesus publicly before men. Either you go down front at the altar call or "invitation" or you won't get into heaven. In many discussions with my good friends I made this clear to them and basically kept them from entering the Kingdom. The man-made "rule" or "requirement" I had embraced served to be a major barrier to my friends being attracted to Jesus.
This fourth reference to entering and not entering the Kingdom boils down to this: 1. Those who don't have it together will enter the Kingdom first. 2. Those who think they have it together through what they know/believe and what they do may not enter the Kingdom at all. 3. And these religious "know-it-alls" tend to shut others out of the Kingdom, too.
Two things to beware of: FIRST—Don't deceive yourself into thinking that your belief system or your behavior will get you into the Kingdom. SECOND—Don't divert others away from Jesus, because of your dogmatic belief system.
Be careful to follow Jesus and put your trust in him and him alone. He is the only way you'll ever get out of this world alive! That's why he said: "I am the way, the truth and the life."
The fifth reference Jesus makes concerning what it takes to enter the Kingdom of heaven has to do with the rich. Three of the Gospels record this one. The context for this Kingdom entrance principle is in relationship to a conversation Jesus had with a young, rich man. Let's listen in to this conversation: Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments." "Which ones?" he inquired. Jesus replied, " 'You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" (NOTE that Jesus equates eternal life with entering life and then later in this passage he speaks of entering the Kingdom of God.)
The young man shockingly states: "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." By "perfect" Jesus means to be complete and whole in your search for life.
Then, note the man's final response to Jesus' words: When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus knew the man's heart and that he was holding on to his riches—his stuff—very tightly. In other words, his stuff had become his security, maybe even his god. For sure, his stuff had distracted this rich, young man away from filling up his heart with the ultimate desire to give it all up and follow Jesus.
Then, Jesus makes the following observation recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke: In Matthew 19:23-24: Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Mark 10; Luke 18)
Whether the image here truly is a camel or a rope going through the eye of a needle, the essence of what Jesus is saying is still the same. IT IS DIFFICULT FOR A RICH MAN TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD! The difficulty for the rich person is that he tends to trust in his riches for security and tends to think that people, places and things can make him happy or whole and complete.
Do you want to enter the Kingdom of God? If you are rich and have a lot of stuff, then hold on to that stuff "loosely", so that you are not trusting in your riches, but in God for a complete and full, eternal life.
Christianity as well as many other religions have become man-made religious systems stocked with do's and don'ts. Within the religious system of Christianity every flavor of Christianity has its set of beliefs that distinguish one from the other. Unfortunately, it's difficult for Christians to see that their religious systems have become like the early, 1st century Jewish religious system with layer upon layer of man-made beliefs that make one more right than the other. And, each belief system has a built-in fear, anger and guilt that accompany it. The fear comes in all sizes-"Am I ready?" "Have I done all the right things in order to get into heaven?" "Have I believed the right things?" "Am I missing something crucial?" "Do I need to know more?"
The anger emerges from people who are not doing the right things that you have come to believe they must do to be right before God. You may not be doing them perfectly either, but it's so much easier to point out others flaws and sins than to face up to your own. This is why you'll note a preacher or bible teacher who seems to always be slamming certain sins harder than others is then is caught committing those very sins. Many times the truth of the matter is they suffer from not facing that particular sin in their own lives and are filled with anger at the wrong person. So, ministers who vehemently preach against prostitutes are caught with a prostitute. Or, a leader who angrily stands against the homosexual movement is discovered to secretly be homosexual.
The guilt manifests itself in the knowledge that you know you are not good enough to make it to heaven or to face up to the God of gods or even keep your own commandments and standards. You know all too well your short-comings and spend much of your time covering them up, rationalizing them away and comparing your performance with others. This underlying guilt leaves an unsettled feeling that you are inadequate in your gut and fuels even more fears of whether or not you are right with God.
Do you see the deadly cycle? I FEAR that I may not make it to heaven and will surely end up in hell. Instead of dealing with my deepest fears of inadequacy, I look for a "sacrificial lamb" who has been caught or who is worse than I am. Then I can spew out my ANGER against them and their failures, somehow believing if I keep taking a stand against these things that are part of me I will in some way atone for my sins by pointing out theirs and punishing them. However, this anger swirls inside you progressively making you sicker and more empty in your own soul. There comes a time when your anger is so ugly that you cannot stand your own behavior and this makes you feel a heavy load of GUILT. With this guilt, now I know my fears are justified regarding ever getting into heaven!
FEAR-ANGER-GUILT. This deadly religious trinity then leaves an indelible residue on your person-on your soul. That residue is SHAME.
Continuing down this religious track, shame sets you up for religious leaders to talk down to you and to offer more and more lists and sets of beliefs for you to embrace in order to get cleaned up enough to be ready to face your Creator. Now, take this cycle of religious insanity based in a man-made religiosity and think in terms of exporting it. Call it anything you want and try to convert the world to your cultural way of thinking. You are still only offering to exchange your cultural, religious system for theirs.
The reality for us to embrace is that Jesus isn't interested in limiting Himself to any specific religious system. In fact, He offers freedom from the deadly religious cycles that entangle us when He says, "All who are weakened and burdened down come unto Me and I will give you rest." The good news is that Jesus came to release us from all negative, stressful, religious cycles and give us rest from it all. He is adamant that we are to follow Him, doing the will of the Father. With Jesus, it's not a religious matter, but a very personal one. He is the unique and irresistible I AM and He wants us to personally relate, trust and follow Him. It's truly Jesus plus nothing.
There are two ways to view Jesus and your spiritual life. One is DEIFICATION and the other is INCARNATION. You have a choice to go the way of deification or the way of incarnation.
Deification is man becoming God. The way of deification is to believe that Jesus was born a human and became God over time. It's almost as if He realized more and more that if He continued to walk the walk of perfection, He must be the chosen one to become God.
This same line of thinking has application in our lives. If we believe that we can become better and better and achieve some sort of level of righteousness on our own, then we are caught up in the process of "deification". Some forms of Christianity have excelled in this with elevating certain teachers or even certain experiences as more spiritual than others.
What happens is believers are divided into first-class citizens vs second-class citizens in the Kingdom. We are naturally set up for this kind of thinking as we elevate our pastors, our teachers, evangelists and our authors.
Incarnation is God becoming man. The way of incarnation is to believe that Jesus was God taking on flesh to become man in order to establish a personal relationship between man and God. Jesus knew who He was and what His mission was. He was God-made-flesh.
This same line of thinking also has application in our lives. In a sense, we are to become Jesus-to allow Him to become alive and powerful in and through us—to take on His person—to flesh Him out. By walking, thinking, loving and talking like Jesus we are fleshing Him out in our lives as we encounter those He brings to us.
Here's how I see it. There are two primary miracles that we must embrace: The Greatest Miracle is the incarnation of Jesus—the Word became flesh—God, born as man. Jesus replaces the OT dwelling place of God. NOTE this in Matthew 1:23: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us").
Jesus came to do four things: FIRST: To reveal God. No one has seen God and Jesus made Him known through Jesus.
SECOND: To be sacrificed—to permanently take away the need to pay for what we do wrong or what we do right.
THIRD: To demonstrate God's love as Jesus was full of grace and truth. If there was ever a man who was God in the flesh, He would act and talk like Jesus.
FOURTH: To redeem us. Mortals can participate in the miracle by being apprehended by Jesus and rescued from our own shallowness and self-absorption.
The 2nd Greatest Miracle is that you can be born of God, taking on His flesh through Jesus. Jesus even says that we will be able to do greater things than He did. Jesus is multiplied through those who have ears to hear and eyes to see-serious followers of Jesus.
Jesus marked the world and you are to be the touch of God on earth-the salt and light.
Jesus moved to a different drummer and you are to be separated from the herd of the world by your genuine love for the world around you.
Jesus made a point of reaching out to the needy and you are to be lovers-especially to those who are ignored by the world-the broken, the outcast, the bruised, damaged and disenfranchised.
Jesus motivated the most extensive movement ever out of His weakness and you are to be a fellowship of prodigal lovers or wounded healers.
The bottom-line is being religious misses the point. Jesus doesn't want us to demonstrate for Him through our religiosity, He wants us to demonstrate Him as we walk like He walked and talk like He talked.
In our Jesus journey we have come to understand that Jesus is without borders, being universally attractive and all-inclusive to all cultures and religious backgrounds. On the other hand, Christianity is limited to a certain cultural upbringing and is to be understood as another religion in our world. Jesus is not owned or limited by Christianity. He is matchless and pre-eminent. There is no one who comes close to his equal. No one!
Last week I mentioned that we have been so bent on "going to heaven", that we may be missing the point that the Creator-God wants to get down here and dwell among us. There is something about continuing with what He created here on the earth that He finds special. He is even planning on creating a new heaven and new earth, so that He can dwell down here among us.
The byline of Christianity has always been that the goal for all Christians is to reach out to non-Christians and encourage them to believe in order to go to heaven someday. The whole theme has been to "get out of here", yet this is not the direction that Jesus and other New Testament writers teach. Instead of us going to heaven, God is intent on coming down here to earth to dwell. This has been the plan all along!
I want to take this week and unpack some things I've been thinking about what God really wants to do with us. I call it the "heaven-to-earth" connection. There are 5 movements throughout the Bible that reveal what is most important to God. I think you’ll quickly see what is important to God and what He is really up to. It’s not the popular beliefs you have been taught.
The first movement is illustrated in the Garden of Eden. You see, God had no need to create any beings in order to experience love, communion and fellowship. God is complete in Himself. The essence of God is relational and demonstrates the need for fellowship within the creation. God wants to walk in relationship with man.
Check out what happened in the Garden of Eden. The first time we encounter lost people is in the Garden. Apparently, God walked with Adam and Eve daily in the garden, but on this particular day Adam and Eve didn't show up. They were distracted and walked away from God and His will. So, instead of walking with God, they were hiding from God. It's at this point that God asks a most relevant question, even for us today, "Where are you?" Now He knew where they were, but He wanted them to understand that they were not where they were intended to be—walking with Him.
MOVEMENT #1—God first wanted to walk with man, but man was busy doing something else. This week we'll see all of the effort God has gone to in order to get you to walk with Him. So, where are you? Are you doing your part to walk with Him daily or are you distracted, walking away or hiding? Are you walking with God or are you doing something else?
This week I am working my way through what I call the "heaven-to-earth" connection. There are 5 movements of God throughout Biblical history that demonstrate what God wants to do with man more than anything else.
1—God wants to walk with man.
Today we come to the second. 2—God wants to dwell among His people.
Internet blogger, Tim Callies, said about "church", "I am proposing that there may come a point in a Christian's life where it is obvious 'the Lord has left the building' and it is time to find out with whom He is meeting, so you can be there."
I couldn't have said it better! You see, God wants to dwell among His people on planet earth. In a very real sense, this is what will distinguish God and His people from all others. In Exodus 25:8 God says, "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them."
This theme of purpose is extended to the very end of the Bible. In the last book of the Bible in Revelation 21:3, it says, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.'"
To be God's people was to have God's presence—His anointing. In Exodus 33, following the incident with the golden calf, God promises to have His presence go with Moses and with the people. Moses says, "Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?" Never before has God dwelt with man in this way.
Man had free fellowship with God in the Garden, but God did not dwell there. God met with Moses on Mt. Sinai in a powerful way, but God did not dwell there. Then God commands Moses to make a tent, a tabernacle, so He could live with them. God takes up residence in their midst!
The location of the tabernacle points to this, for it was to be in the middle with the Twelve Tribes arranged around it. This is exactly where a king's tent would be located when he would lead his people into battle. And there dwelt the Divine warrior. When the people entered the Promised Land, this dwelling—a portable tabernacle—would be replaced by a permanent dwelling place—the Temple, so that God would rest with His people. This shows us first that these dwellings were the mark of God's presence with His people and in doing so He identifies with His people.
Again, this is why God asked Adam and Eve, "Where are you?" And, as His people continued to grow and gather together outside the Garden, God was always doing anything He could do to bring His people closer to Himself. But even more than this, He wanted to dwell among His people.
Let me ask you something. Have you ever felt the presence of God as you gather with His people? God is willing to do anything He has to do to get close to you. Rob Bell says that God is saying, "I want to get down there!" And when God shows up among His people, some amazing things happen and people are touched with His loving and healing touch.
Are you looking for God to dwell among you and your relationships? He's doing His best to find you, so He can dwell with you! So where are you?
We are moving through 5 movements that demonstrate what God sees as most important for us in relation to Him. First—God wants to walk with man. Second—God wants to dwell among us.
And now today, we come to the third movement. Third—God has demonstrated His physical, visible presence to relate to us.
There is an interesting phenomenon throughout the Bible. It's what many call the "shekinah" glory—the visible presence of God on the earth. This visible manifestation of God is the very presence of God. It's the majestic presence of God in which He dwells among man. The forms of this visible dwelling place—the shekinah—are many. It could be a brightness, brilliance or splendor. In the Old Testament the Shekinah took the form of light, fire, a cloud, a thick darkness or combination of these in some way. In the New Testament there are new forms altogether!
Let's look at a few of these occurrences. 1. In the Garden—It says there that God caused a flame to dwell. 2. Abrahamic Covenant—God made a "blood covenant" with Abraham. The blood covenant required that the animals being sacrificed be cut in half. Then the two parties making the agreement with one another lock arms and walk together between the animal sacrifices. In this particular case, God put Abraham to sleep and walked between the sacrificed animals alone in the form of a smoking furnace and flaming torch. God walked in this visible presence of a fiery furnace.
- Burning Bush—A bush in the desert caught on fire and yet it did not burn up, because God actually dwelt in this burning bush in front of Moses. 4. The Exodus—The children of Israel were led by day by a cloud and led at night by a pillar of fire—both forms of the visible presence of God. 5. Mount Sinai—While Moses was up on Sinai, the presence of God was demonstrated by thunders, lightning, a thick cloud and fire. 6. Tabernacle—We saw this yesterday when God orders them to build an altar or tabernacle where God dwelt in the light and the smoke.
Then we come to the most demonstrable form of God's visible presence of all—Jesus. This is best explained in the first few verses of the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Remember, yesterday I said that God would do most anything to get your attention, so that you will want Him to dwell among us. Well, here He did it. He sent Jesus Who was the presence of God in bodily form. All the fullness of God dwells in Jesus. This is why we make so much of watching what Jesus says and does and say and do the same.
Since in Jesus we find the fullness of the Creator/God, we are able to lift him up to any culture—Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Moslem and Christian and Jesus is most worthy of being emulated and followed. This is why we spend most of our time personally and sharing with others the importance of doing the toughest thing one can ever attempt to do—to follow the teachings and principles of Jesus. Whatever your cultural background, Jesus is well worth following. You see, if you abide in Jesus and he abides in you, that's a relationship that no religion or religious system can match.
Why? Because he is the ultimate dwelling place of God.
We are moving through 5 movements that demonstrate what God sees as most important for us in relation to Him.
First—God wants to walk with man. Second—God wants to dwell among us. Third—God has demonstrated His physical, visible presence to relate to us. And the ultimate visible, presence of God is in Jesus! All the fullness of God dwells in him!
And now today, we come to the fourth movement—God sent His spirit to indwell believers as an altar, a tabernacle or temple. Just as God ordered Moses to build an altar and later directed that a portable tabernacle be built for traveling, then the Temple in Jerusalem was to be built—all dwelling places for God to be present among His people.
Then when Jesus was teaching his disciples during their last gathering together, he broke some interesting news to them. He said, "If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."
The news? Jesus will be departing and the disciples will be given the Spirit of truth, Who has been with them, but will now live in them—forever!
Later on in one of the letters written to the Corinthians we find Paul and Sosthenes saying, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? Therefore honor God with your bodies."
Paul and Sosthenes, with great emotion, identify the news Jesus announced to his disciples. It is simply this. The Spirit of God will now dwell within the disciples of Jesus permanently. The disciples of Jesus are now to serve as the altar, a tabernacle or the Temple—the actual dwelling place of God.
Now, do you remember the reason why God wanted to dwell in an altar, tabernacle or Temple? It was so that God could dwell among His people.
I hope you get this. All you have to do is to meditate on this for about 30 seconds and this truth could change your life and your lifestyle forever! You are now the very dwelling place of God on earth. This is why it is so false to think in terms of going to church or of visiting God at some building with a constructed altar in it. HE IS NOT THERE! He lives in the disciples of Jesus today. These disciples are the church. There is no sanctuary that people can "attend" on a Sunday. The disciples of Jesus—each one of them—are the "sanctuaries" of God—where God dwells.
Don't you get it? The same God of gods Who walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, Who was in the burning bush, Who was in the cloud by day and the fire by night, Who was revealed in his fullness in bodily form in Jesus of Nazareth. This same God dwells in you who are followers of Jesus. Do you get it now? So that God might bring His presence to earth and dwell among us.
We are moving through 5 movements that demonstrate what God sees as most important for us in relation to Him.
First—GOD WANTS TO WALK WITH MAN. Second—GOD WANTS TO DWELL AMONG US. Third—GOD HAS DEMONSTRATED HIS PHYSICAL, VISIBLE PRESENCE TO RELATE TO US. And the ultimate visible, presence of God is in Jesus! All the fullness of God dwells in Him! Fourth—GOD SENT HIS SPIRIT TO INDWELL BELIEVERS AS AN ALTAR, A TABERNACLE OR TEMPLE.
And now today, we come to the fifth movement. Fifth—GOD WANTS TO WALK WITH YOU—TO SHOW UP AMONG US.
It's all about being the church! God indwells you--His presence on earth is in you who are followers of Jesus. And, when you come together with other followers of Jesus, you are assembling (or churching) in His name. So every time you gather together in His name you are practicing being the church of Jesus. This doesn't mean at all that followers of Jesus are not to attend local churches. There is so much value within the organized church.
- Children's ministries - Youth ministries - Bible study series - Corporate worship together - Challenging messages from gifted teachers
However, there are two primary dangers: 1. When you "show up" at a church service and take in all of the wonderful ministries, it's too easy to think that this will suffice in growing you up spiritually.
2. When you "attend the show" without participating in a smaller, tight fellowship of followers of Jesus, you will miss what God's intent has been since the Garden. He wants to dwell among us and walk with us personally! The greatest epidemic today is to be addicted to going to church—checking in and checking off your responsibility to the Lord. There is so much more than this.
I've noticed something over the last few years that is astounding to me. I have watched people who have sat under some of the best Bible teaching ever, even sat under this teaching for years. Then, when that same person starts walking with another follower of Jesus (or 2 or 3), it's like he experiences a shot of spiritual adrenaline and it's life changing!
Just today at lunch a few of us were discussing how a young couple in our little fellowship of Jesus followers is growing so much in their relationship with each other and with the Lord. What's interesting is that it isn't that they are hearing such wonderful teaching (including mine), but they are experiencing the power of the few.
Don't miss the power of the few. Jesus says, "Where 2 or 3 are gathered together in My name, I will show up there in their midst." This brings us right back to what God initially wanted to do with man—to be present with him and walk with him.
I ask you one more time. "If you knew Jesus was going to show up somewhere, wouldn't you do anything you could do to go there to be with Him?" So, link up with another follower of Jesus (or 2 or 3) and learn to walk together—to do life together. Jesus Who dwells within ya'll will show up among you! Try it out for yourself!
The presence of Jesus….