A Faithful Witness

Rule Rage

In Psalm 2, the nations are depicted as raging against God’s rule. Such rebellion still exists in our day. On the personal level, nothing about the constitutional nature of human beings has not changed since Psalm 2 was written.

Individuals are still, in their fallen condition, at enmity with and rebellion against God and his reign in their lives. This human condition presents itself in different ways, perhaps in as many ways as there are people. But it all stems from their sinful, fallen, and broken condition.

​It shows up corporately as well. Such “raging” against God’s rule and reign is revealed in groups, systems, and even the culture at large, much of which appears as desiring and pursuing the opposite of what God wills and commands.

Wag the Dog

Yet none of this is done in ignorance. The nations (and individuals) know what they are doing. This is where Romans 1:18-21 comes in. God has made himself plain (evident) to all so that no one has an excuse. Yet people in their fallen human condition suppress the truth they know about God in unrighteousness.

They neither glorify nor thank God, but instead, their thinking becomes futile, and their foolish hearts are darkened. They do not want a belief system that stifles their desires and pursuits. They don’t want a worldview and faith that leads to repentance and new life.  They don’t want to be ruled by Another. Thus, their desires and lifestyles wag the dog. In other words, they adjust their worldview to fit their desires and the ways in which they want to live. 

They mistakenly view the freedom God permits to be autonomy with impunity. We know this to be true because God’s Word teaches it. We know this is true because we once walked in their shoes. Thus, our hearts ought to ache for those walking in such rebellion and brokenness.

Salt and Light

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be his ambassadors to bear witness to precisely these individuals, these systems, this culture. Christ tells us we are salt and light in this dark and decaying world. He commands us to go to and be for these people who were created in his image. Ours is a message of reconciliation and reclamation. It’s the good news that even in our rebellion against the King of the universe, he has made a way to re-create that fallen and broken image through our redemption in Christ Jesus our Lord.

​Our task is to learn how to faithfully bear witness to those in our spheres of influence. Instead of a cookie-cutter approach to our witness, we need to really listen to, learn about, and get to know our neighbors so we can discover how their sin, rebellion, and brokenness are manifested in their lives. We know what their ultimate need is. We know what (Who) the ultimate answer to their need is. Yet, we want to be able to communicate that answer to them in a way they will understand, and even appreciate, while trusting God for the results.

Walking Points

  • How does this message relate to your calling as a follower of Jesus Christ?
  • In what ways are you bearing a faithful witness for Christ and serving as his ambassador?
  • What is the hardest part for you in sharing your faith with your neighbor?
  • What are some ways you have gotten to know your neighbors and learned about their struggles?
  • How do groups, systems, and the culture at large rebel against God? In what ways is such brokenness revealed corporately?
  • How can Christians faithfully bear witness to these groups, systems, and even our culture?

The Kingdom of God

A Hard Question

For eleven years I was privileged to serve on the Board of Ordained Ministry for my denomination. The responsibility of the Board is to work with people who are candidates for ordained ministry, helping them navigate their way through the long process. From assisting them in understanding God’s call in their lives to celebrating with them at their ordination, it was a rewarding experience.

Broadly speaking, the areas the Board focuses on are a candidate’s call to ministry, pastoral and leadership skills, psychological and spiritual well-being, preaching and teaching abilities, and theological soundness.

My particular position was to serve with the group that assessed the candidate’s theology. We were responsible for reading the candidate’s theological paperwork and then interviewing them in person.

One of the tough issues each candidate had to face is the topic we will look at in this chapter: The Kingdom of God? What is it? How are we to understand it?

Would you be able to answer those two questions? Correctly? It’s a hard subject, one that many Christians have not spent a great deal of time thinking about. Some candidates struggled with it as well.

The Focus of Jesus

Maybe you’re wondering why, if it is such a hard question to answer, would we ask the candidates about the Kingdom of God. That is not a hard question to answer. The reason candidates are asked about the Kingdom of God is because it was the central theme of Jesus’ ministry. Everything he preached on, did, and taught somehow related to the Kingdom of God.

Here are some examples of Jesus’ focus on the Kingdom of God in Matthew’s Gospel alone.

Matthew 13:24 – Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 13:31 – He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.

Matthew 13:33 – He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Matthew 13:44 – “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Matthew 13:47 – “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.

Jesus referred to the Kingdom over thirty times in Matthew’s Gospel alone. That certainly suggests this was an important topic for our Lord.

Jesus Begins His Ministry

Our text finds us at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Matthew 4:12 reports Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been put in prison. We do not know how long it was after Jesus heard this news, but we learn Jesus returned to Galilee.

This is key because Jesus was moving from something of a wilderness setting to a much more highly populated area. It was one in which he would be able to minister to a greater number of people. Many roads traveled to and from Galilee. Many people lived there. The opportunity to reach more people with his message would increase considerably.

Interestingly, Matthew suggested this move to Galilee was a fulfillment of a prophecy found in Isaiah 9. That’s why he wrote in Matthew 4:13-16,

Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali– [14] to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

[15] “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,the way to the sea, along the Jordan,Galilee of the Gentiles–

[16] the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned
.”

Then we read these important words in verse 17,

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

That phrase, “From that time on…” is important. Matthew highlighted that Jesus was beginning his public ministry, one that would eventually take him to the Cross.

Repent

And what’s the message of Jesus? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

You have likely heard the word “Repent.” When we hear the word, repent, we often think of being sorry for something we’ve done and then promising never to do it again. And certainly, there’s an element of that here. However, in the Bible, the word means more than that. The word repent carries a couple of ideas with it.

A Change of Thinking

First it denotes changing the way a person thinks about something. Instead of thinking about something the way “the world” does, in a self-centered, rebellious sort of way, repentance means agreement with what God has said about that issue. 

The Sermon on the Mount is a marvelous exposition or teaching on this very thing. Jesus teaches us the fallen world thinks one way, but he calls his followers to think another way, his way.

A Change of Life

In the Old Testament, and the way Jesus was using the word here, repent means more than a change in one’s thinking. It also means a change in one’s behavior. One commentator said by “repentance,” Jesus meant,

A radical change of mind and heart that leads to a complete turnabout of life.” (William Hendrickson, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 197)

Again, the Sermon on the Mount is focused on what this “radical change of mind and heart and complete turnabout of life” looks like.

Jesus also seemed to stress an urgency in his call to repentance. But what’s the hurry? Why the sense of urgency to repent? Because, Jesus stressed, the kingdom of heaven is near.

What is the Kingdom of God?

What is Jesus referring to here? What is this “kingdom of heaven” that is near? The Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God, is the sovereign and gracious reign and rule of God.

Jesus doesn’t refer to the Kingdom as a place, in the sense of a geographical location. Instead, the Kingdom is God’s rule and reign. It’s wherever God’s will is being proclaimed and done. It’s wherever his influence is in effect. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, for example, in Matthew 6:10,

your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The Kingdom of God is manifested in the hearts, minds, and lives of those who have bowed their knees to the King of the Kingdom, the Lord Jesus Christ. Wherever the loyal subjects of the King serve him, there you’ll find the Kingdom advancing, being extended into every sphere of life.

The Church and the Kingdom aren’t identical, but the Church, followers of the Lord Jesus, are the primary agents who spread God’s Kingdom.

Examples

What are some examples of the Kingdom breaking into our fallen, broken, and sinful world?

  1. Where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is faithfully preached in the local church, the King of the Kingdom is being exalted.
  2. Where parents faithfully disciple their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, the Kingdom is being extended.
  3. Where a follower of Christ is doing all his or her work to the glory of God, God’s Kingdom begins to influence those around.
  4. Where Habitat for Humanity builds another house and shows mercy and respect to a family in the name of Christ, the Kingdom of God is breaking through.
  5. Where families without homes are treated lovingly and with dignity by local church ministries, the Kingdom of God is there.
  6. Where boys without fathers in their homes are mentored by caring godly men, the Kingdom of God is present.
  7. Where people in need can receive food, clothing, Bibles, toys, smiles, prayers, and warm hugs, the Kingdom is triumphing.
  8. Where a person who shared his faith in public is being defended from religious persecution, the Kingdom is advancing.
  9. Where a young nurse travels to India to care for the least and the last – scrubbing toilets without anyone noticing, the Kingdom of God is being manifested with power and grace.

The rule and reign of God, saturated in his grace, empowered by his sovereign Spirit, and directed by his will can be found wherever God’s people are at work for his sake and in his name.

United Methodists believe in God’s prevenient grace, the grace of God that goes ever before us, drawing us to Christ. We therefore hope and pray that even in those places where the name of Christ is not yet known or proclaimed, God’s prevenient grace is drawing people to the King of the Kingdom.

The Good News of the Kingdom

In verse 23, Matthew wrote, Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

What does Matthew say Jesus is preaching here? The good news of the Kingdom. The phrase “good news” is where we get our word “gospel.” The Kingdom of God ultimately cannot be understood apart from the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ.

The good news is what God has done in and through his Son to reconcile sinful, lost and broken people to himself. God sent Jesus, as his name implies, to save his people from their sin. The Kingdom cannot be properly understood apart from this.

God’s Kingdom turns all other kingdoms upside-down and not only offers salvation through Christ, but also sets patterns, attitudes, and behaviors for citizens of the Kingdom.

Already and Not Yet

The coming of Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God. Yet the Kingdom will not be fully consummated and enjoyed until Christ returns and we’re gathered to him. Theologians call this living between the “already” and the “not yet.” The Kingdom is present in our midst, and yet, it is not all it will one day be.

This “not yet” aspect of the Kingdom is perhaps why Jesus, while he was still with his disciples at the Passover meal, told them,

Luke 22:15-18 – “…I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. [16] For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

[17] After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. [18] For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Emphasis Added)

Living In-Between

Part of our understanding of the Lord’s Supper includes not only looking back to what Christ did for us, but it also emphasizes looking forward, forward to that day when we’ll dine with our King at the heavenly banquet he’s graciously prepared for us.

Until then, Christ’s faithful subjects are called to live in this in-between time, representing their King and extending his Kingdom into every sphere of life.

Walking Points

  • How have you experienced God’s rule and reign in your life?
  • How are you participating in extending God’s Kingdom and will here on earth as it is heaven?
  • Spend some time asking God to lead you to greater faithfulness in your life. Talk with your pastor and a few Christian friends to help you discover areas you can grow in “Kingdom faithfulness.”

To Follow Jesus

Luke 14:25-33

There’s a strong connection in Scripture between picking up and carrying one’s cross and following Jesus. According to our Lord, there’s a direct link between that and being his disciple.

 Luke 14:27 says,

And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me
cannot be my disciple
.”

That’s a fairly absolute and unambiguous statement.

According to Luke 14:33, picking up your cross and following Jesus is the same as dying to self… dying to your own agenda… dying to your own lordship. To that mentality, Jesus shares these sobering words,

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

In John 12:25-26, Jesus says something similar.

The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be.”

I could continue adding to this list because this is a very common theme in the teaching of Jesus. And yet, as clear as this theme is in Scripture, it doesn’t seem to be one of our Lord’s most embraced or beloved teachings. Instead, the Church today (and perhaps throughout all generations) appears to run toward…

  • comfort
  • convenience
  • ease
  • self-esteem
  • cheap grace
  • easy believism
  • consumer/entertainment mentality
  • etc., etc., etc.

Not a lot of dying to self and picking up crosses. Such is our fallen condition. Yet, for the redeemed of God, this should not be. However, this has also been found in the church throughout her history as well. This is no doubt why Bonhoeffer wrote the following oft-quoted words…

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.”

Bonhoeffer

Instead, both Jesus and Bonhoeffer call us to pursue “costly grace.”

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price, to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.”

Bonhoeffer

Following Jesus in this way is a call to…

  • Obedience
  • Repentance
  • Submission
  • Commitment
  • Perseverance
  • Dying, yet being raised from the dead

Let me hasten to add this isn’t the call of a cruel and legalistic taskmaster. It’s the call of One who loves us dearly and who is full of grace and truth. It’s the call of One whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. It’s the call of One who does not ask us to follow him in our own strength, but by the power of his Spirit. In fact, he promises to live his life through us.

In our Scripture, Jesus tells us that the wise person will count the cost of discipleship before following him. And then Dallas Willard throws cold water on us by reminding us there is indeed a steep cost to discipleship. But, he points out, there is also a greater cost to “non-discipleship.”

To be sure, it will cost us our lives to follow Christ. But it will cost us infinitely more not to.

Engaging Culture

I made a point in this post of highlighting our need, as Christians, to know the culture (and the times) in which we live. But what comes next? How do we engage the culture we’ve spent our time learning about? This series by T.M. Moore helps us think through the various aspects of engaging our culture.

T.M. Moore is a wise and godly man who walks closely with the Lord and has much to offer the church today. I have been a part of his online fellowship, The Fellowship of Ailbe, for about seven years. In fact, T.M. has been something of a spiritual friend and mentor over those years and I can attest to his deep commitment to Christ and his Kingdom.

This series, on how Christians ought to understand and engage culture, is a helpful tool for all who want to represent Christ well and reach the world for his sake. These studies work well as either your own personal devotional resource or as study material for your small group… or both.

1.) Repudiate (Engaging Culture, Part 1)

2.) Appropriate (Engaging Culture, Part 2)

3.) Redirect (Engaging Culture, Part3)

4.) Transform (Engaging Culture, Part 4)

5.) Innovate (Engaging the Culture, Part 5)

6.) Three “Legs” (Engaging the Culture, Part 6)

​7.) Three “Braces” (Engaging the Culture, Part 7)

Francis Schaeffer

As many others before me, I was influenced early in my ministry by the books, audio messages, and video recordings of Francis Schaeffer. I never gave in to trying to grow his goatee or dress like him, but from time to time I probably tried to speak like him, as I was finding my own voice. That happens to preachers sometimes… they try to sound like their favorite preacher instead of being who they are – along with their particular gifts and graces.

I used to deeply study philosophy, worldview-thinking, ethics, theology, culture, and apologetics through seminary and well into the first half of my ministry. Francis Schaeffer helped me navigate much of that journey. He helped show me how those subjects were all connected and how understanding such things was essential for practical day-to-day life and ministry. More than that, his biblical, theological, and philosophical convictions compelled him to bear faithful Christian witness to the world in which he lived. In fact, he thought of himself, primarily, as an evangelist.

Reading Schaeffer’s works and learning more about him, his family, and his ministry also led me to discover others who have since impacted my thinking and ministry, such as Jerram BarrsOs Guinness, and Dick Keyes.

Though I have never stopped studying those philosophical and theological disciplines previously mentioned, I have had something of a renewal of interest and focus on them over this last handful of years. Therefore, I thought I might share this post on Schaeffer that I put together shortly after the centennial celebration of Schaeffer’s birth. During that time, I read some great tributes to his life and ministry and thought that I would pass those along, as well as a few helpful websites and ministries that are carrying on Schaeffer’s work today.

I hope something you come across here will bless you.


A few articles about Schaeffer…

Remembering Francis Schaeffer by T.M. Moore (good list of links at the end of the article). In many ways Charles Colson and his various ministries (The Colson CenterBreakPoint, etc., are carrying on in the same spirit as Schaeffer.

100th Anniversary of Francis Schaeffer’s Birth by Nathan Bingham at Ligonier Ministries

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (a review by Hunter Baker) at Gospel Coalition

Francis Schaeffer at 100 at Credo Magazine

Covenant Theological Seminary’s magazine issue on Schaeffer

The Need to Read Francis Schaeffer by Todd Kappelman at Probe Ministries

Francis Schaeffer and a World in Desperate Need by Lane Dennis at Crossway

Francis Schaeffer at Wheaton

Review: Duriez on Schaeffer by Donald Williams

How Then Should We Live?: Francis Schaeffer at 100 by Charles Colson


Here are some great websites/ministries serving in the “Schaeffer spirit”…

L’Abri Fellowship -This is the ministry that Schaeffer and his wife founded. It has greatly expanded and continues to do a wonderful job of ministering today. Check out their page on the history of L’Abri.

Francis A. Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary. Jerram Barrs is closely connected to this. Two of his courses, on the early and later years of Schaeffer, are available (for free!!!) at the Covenant website. And HERE

Francis Schaeffer Studies.org -a new website and ministry launched to celebrate the 100th birthday of Schaeffer. Lots of great resources available.

Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation – The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation was incorporated in 1988 by Edith SchaefferUdo and Deborah Middelmann and several of their friends as a foundation of ideas.

The Francis Schaeffer Study Center – This is an awesome ministry to students. From their webpage… “The focus of the Study Center curriculum is on equipping high school students with basic biblical knowledge, an understanding of the Christian world-view and an integrated study of the literature, history, and art of western civilization.”

Other helpful resources…

And… what would a post on Schaeffer be without something from the man himself…

The Micah Mandate: What is Christian Witness?

Christians have often truncated the scope of Christian witness one way or the other, depending on the person or group about whom you are speaking. For example, sometimes witness is understood purely in terms of evangelism and missions. Other times, bearing witness for Christ is framed exclusively in terms of social action.

Instead, the church is at her best when she views and practices her witness as a both/and… not an either/or paradigm. It’s what George Grant called in his book by the same name, The Micah Mandate (a very, very important book in my life that did much to shape me).

Bearing a faithful witness for our King and his Kingdom involves introducing folks to our King and helping them come to know him in a meaningful, transforming, personal, and saving way. Yet it also involves representing our King in the midst of the lesser kingdoms of this world. He desires to rule and reign in every sphere of life and we must go out into the highways and byways to stand for… and even fight for… his mercy, justice, and peace, according to his way of doing things. Of course, all of this is to be done with great humility, and always in the context of loving our neighbors by serving them and sharing his truth with them.

At all times we are under his authority and are not at liberty to pursue our own agendas and preferences. This means we must dig into what his Word says. The Great Commandment, Great Commission, and Cultural Mandate all require loving, serving, and obeying our King for his glory and for the good of our neighbors. This is our Christian witness. It’s what I’ve elsewhere referred to as Kingdom Discipleship.

May God help us clarify our focus and strengthen our faithfulness as we seek to bear witness to our King and for his Kingdom.