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This past Sunday, as we continued our study in the book of Acts, we read Acts chapter 14.  In this chapter, we saw Paul and Barnabas continuing on their journey to proclaim the gospel.  When they arrived in Lystra, Paul encountered a man who had been lame all his life.  As the man listened intently to Paul, it became clear to Paul that the man had the faith to be healed.  When Paul instructed the man to stand up, the man arose and began to walk.  The story continues in verse 11:

Acts 14:11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”

What is important to note here is that these people, who were not Jews, assumed that their gods had descended to earth and appeared in human form. They referred to Barnabas as Zeus, and Paul as Hermes, because Paul did most of the talking.  Contained within this portion of the story is a foundational truth – you relate only to those things with which you can identify.  Since these people knew nothing of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, when they saw Barnabas and Paul they immediately identified them as two of their own gods.  What is interesting to note is that Hermes was a herald for Zeus, who was the king of all of the gods. Apparently, they were able to properly discern that Paul was a herald based upon his speaking.
Why is this principle so important for us today? Because it shows us that we too will perceive God through the lens of our experience, which for each of us is a very narrow lens.  While this is certainly the fault of no one, both Christ Jesus and Paul made it very clear that if we desire to experience God to a greater degree, our minds must be transformed.  Christ Jesus said that a man must be “born again” just to see the kingdom of God.  Additionally, Paul instructed us to be transformed from this world by the renewing of our minds.  In other words, unless our minds are truly changed, we will continue to perceive God through that same lens we were taught to see him, which may very well be a very distorted lens.  So what lens do we need to perceive God to a greater degree?  We must have a kingdom lens.  This was the only doctrine that Christ taught – the kingdom doctrine.  So the principle is simple but important – the more we learn and understand about the kingdom of God, the better we can identify with it.  And the more we identify with the kingdom, the better we can relate to it.  Here is a simple test to measure how you relate only to that with which you can identify: if someone were to ask you to describe what the Lord Jesus may have looked like, how would you describe him?

Luke 16:24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

When we think of the story of the rich man and Lazarus, we tend to focus on the stark contrast between the two men; Lazarus being poor, and the man being rich.  Lazarus goes into the bosom of Abraham, and the rich man is in hell.  Sometimes, however, we can be so busy focusing on one aspect of the story that we miss an even more profound teaching by our Lord Jesus.
Notice, in this passage, that the rich man calls up to Abraham, and asks Abraham to have pity on him. There would be nothing too unusual about that, since in the story he is in torment and is asking Abraham for relief.  It is what he says next, however, that is so striking: “send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”  Let’s consider this for a moment.  The rich man is asking Abraham to have pity upon him, but then he asks Abraham to “send Lazarus.”  It is as if the rich man sees Lazarus as nothing more than a poor servant!  And this brings us to an important principle:

Whatever mindset you leave this life with, is the mindset you will have in the life to come.  

Let that sink in for a moment.  If you have a selfish mindset in this life, that is the mindset you will take in the life to come.  If you have a prideful mindset, that is the mindset you will take in the life to come.  If you are filled with hatred, hatred you will carry into the life to come.  Contrast the story of the rich man and Lazarus to the story of the thief on the cross.  Notice what he says to the Lord Jesus before he dies:
Luke 23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Notice his mindset.  This man recognized he deserved his punishment, but in humility appealed to the Lord Jesus, and the Lord Jesus showed him mercy.

What is your state of mind right now?  None of us knows how many days we have left remaining in this life.  There is an urgency to change your mindset now, while you have the opportunity.  This is truly what it means to repent – to change your mindset.  If you are selfish, now is the time to become selfless.  If you are harboring unforgiveness, now is the time to forgive.  Are you greedy?  Begin giving today.  In other words, change your mindset TODAY.  

 

In general, it is easy to recite the words that we see written in the Bible.  Most Christians know the prayer that the Lord Jesus taught His disciples to pray as the Lord’s Prayer, and it is recited weekly in congregations around the world.  But have you given thought to what the Lord was instructing His disciples to pray?  What does “Thy Kingdom Come” mean?  Were the disciples being instructed to pray that God’s kingdom be set up upon this earth?  That would seem to contradict the very words of Christ Himself, when He said that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36)  If this is not an earthly kingdom, then where were the disciples asking that it come?  All we know is life here on this earth.  Perhaps, when the Lord Jesus instructed the disciples to pray “Thy Kingdom Come,” He was implying that the kingdom was to be revealed to them in their lives.  Is it possible that this prayer was given to the disciples because they believed that Jesus is the Christ?  In other words, only those who believe that God fulfilled his promise in Christ Jesus would be able to pray this prayer.  Perhaps it is not a request at all; perhaps it is a declaration. “God, your Kingdom has come in the form of Christ Jesus.  What you have promised, you brought to pass.  God, what you intended has occurred.  Indeed, your will has been accomplished.”  This is not a prayer of hope; it is a declaration of praise given to those who not only believe that Jesus is the Christ, but submit to His will.  If we pray this prayer today, we should do so with much joy, as we are declaring that God brought to pass that which He promised in his covenants of promise to Israel.  We are declaring that the long awaited hope was made manifest in Christ Jesus.  We are rejoicing because God indeed did fulfill his promise!

1 Cor. 12:18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

“God, if you get me back to Cincinnati, I promise I won’t leave!”  This was my plea to the Lord around 1993.  Ironically, Cincinnati was the last place I wanted to be.  My family and I left Cincinnati in 1985, and I swore I was never returning.  The last image I wanted to see of Cincinnati was out my rear view mirror.  Yet, in New Jersey, here I am crying out to the Lord to get me back to the city I despised.  Why? I had no idea.  There was simply something in my heart that was telling me I was not in the right place.  So the Lord opened the door, and we returned to Cincinnati in 1995.  I didn’t return because of a fantastic job opportunity; I didn’t return because of family.  I returned because in my heart, I knew this was where God desired me to be.  I knew it in my heart, even though I wasn’t aware of the passage in 1 Corinthians.  Within two years, however, the picture became clearer.  I needed to be in Cincinnati to hear a man from Texas proclaim and teach about the kingdom of God.  I would not have heard that distinct voice had I remained in New Jersey.  I needed to be where God set me, and I needed to be there at the proper time, in order to hear the message of the gospel.  Is it important to be where God has set you?  It is more than important; it is vital to your spiritual health.  Remember, however, that God sets members in the body where it pleases HIM, not you.  He doesn’t set you where all of your family is; he doesn’t set you where you are comfortable.  He doesn’t set you where it is convenient for you; he doesn’t set you where the best jobs are.  It may please him to set you in the midst of a crime-ridden community; you may be set in the midst of people whose faith is not like your own.  While you may desire to fellowship with a large group of people, God may set you in a body of three or four.  This is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges saints of God face in a country where we value our right to choose.  Now, our Lord is saying “in my house, you give up your right to choose, and I choose to set you where I am pleased.”  Understanding this truth cannot occur absent a renewed mind.  Yielding to this truth is not a work of the flesh; it must be a work of the Spirit.  Have you felt an uneasiness in your inner being, have you heard that voice of distinction that is telling you where you are to be set?  If you have, don’t try to muffle that voice.  Don’t let other voices distract you from being set in the proper place.  Submit to the rule of God, for he knows what you need in order to accomplish his will.

Rom. 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.”
The day has finally come.  You have been anxiously awaiting this moment.  Finally, no more moving from house to house.  No more foster parents.  Finally, a permanent home!  But what will life be like?  How do you suddenly call people who were not previously part of your life family?  How will life change?  So many questions are running through your mind as your adoptive parents come to receive you.  You are happy, but also apprehensive.  At the house, the children there are excited about having another sibling, but now they too have questions.  Does this new child have the same rights and privileges as we do?  Will the new child receive the same attention?  While this example is an earthly example, it can also apply in the kingdom.  How do I fit into the family of God?  What if those in the family of God treat me as different because I come into the family with a different background, and different experiences?
The psalmist wrote “He gives families to the lonely, and releases prisoners from jail, singing with joy! But for rebels there is famine and distress.” (Psa. 68:6 TLB) God takes those who are lonely and sets them in a family; but does that mean that the tendency to be lonely immediately disappears?  Not at all!  There is a proverb that warns us what happens when we demand our own way instead of the new way of life in a family:
Prov. 18:1 He who separates himself indulges his desires and shows contempt for sound advice of any kind. (CJB)
In other words, just because we are adopted into a family, doesn’t mean we receive the adoption in our minds and in our hearts.  In fact, in the passage in Romans, the word “received” could easily be translated “to lay hold of” or “to seize.”  These are much more aggressive terms than to receive.  Here is how the Lord Jesus described it:
Matt. 11:12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of the heavens is taken by violence and the violent seize it. (BLB)
This spirit of adoption must be seized by each child.  This adoption is a bilateral agreement, where both parties must act.  The adoptive family must bring me in, but I must also seize this spirit of adoption.  I must lay hold of this adoptive influence.  How, then, will others know that I am now part of this family?  Through my actions.  I am transitioning from being an independent person to being a dependent child.  This is a challenge for us today, especially when we have been raised to be independent people in the flesh.  Simply put, we cannot do it alone.  We need each other to remind us that God has not abandoned us, and has provided us with an eternal family.  We must provoke one another to shed the baggage of the past independent life and enjoy life in this new family.  We are to remind one another of the rules of the house, which we are expected to obey.  That obedience is proof of our adoption.  Your adoptive family has received you; the question is have you received your adoptive family?

Matt. 13:33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

In one sentence, the Lord Jesus provided one of the most powerful, relevant, contemporary metaphors of the kingdom of heaven.  What is leaven?  Today, we call it yeast.  But whether you call it leaven or yeast, it is a bacteria. How do we define bacteria?  The definition of bacteria from vocabulary.com is:
Bacteria are microscopic living organisms, usually one-celled, that can be found everywhere. They can be dangerous, such as when they cause infection, or beneficial, as in the process of fermentation (such as in wine) and that of decomposition.” What is interesting about bacteria is that you don’t see it working, you see the EFFECTS of it working.  In other words, you don’t see the leaven working in the meal, or dough, you see the EFFECTS of the leaven in the meal.  And this is what happens with the kingdom of God in a person’s life.  You don’t see the kingdom at work in a person, you see the EFFECTS of the kingdom in a person.
But leaven has another quality that makes it like the kingdom of God.  Like all bacteria, leaven is a contagion, meaning it spreads by contact.  Here are two definitions from vocabulary.com for contagion:
“Any disease easily transmitted by contact.”
“The communication of an attitude or emotional state among a number of people.”
Vocabulary.com uses this example to describe the phenomenon of contagion:
“Have you ever noticed how when one person yawns, the people around him tend to do so as well? This phenomenon can be described as a contagion, the spreading of an emotional or mental state (in this case, fatigue).”
So contagions spread by contact.  Even in the example, the people affected by the yawning person were the ones around him, the ones who were close enough to see him.  Others, not close in proximity, may have seen or even heard him from a distance, but were not affected.  What then, does this mean for us today?  It means the gospel is still spread through close contact.  It isn’t spread by being seated in a large gathering or assembly once a week; it is spread in your day to day contact with your co-workers, with your classmates, with your neighbors, and with your friends.  The kingdom within you is supposed to be contagious; those around you don’t see the kingdom in you, they see the EFFECTS of the kingdom in you.  They see the change in you; they see the patience you are exhibiting; they see how you esteem others higher than yourselves.  These are all effects of the kingdom working its way through your life.  Are you contagious?

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Recently, I was involved in a discussion on social media, and the topic of being born again was raised.  One person wrote “the Bible tells us how to be born again.”  I rasked “where does the Bible tell us how to be born again?”  The response was “Start reading in the Gospel of John and beforehand, from a sincere heart, ask God to open your understanding and bring the words to life for you.”  The writer could not point me to a verse or passage because no passage exists in the Bible that tells us how to be born again.
The Lord Jesus told us what needs to be done (be born again), but He provided no instruction how to accomplish it.  Similarly, when speaking about the kingdom of God, the Lord Jesus told us what the kingdom was like through His parables, but not once did He tell us what the kingdom was.  So what does it mean to be born again?  And how would we know if and when we are born again?  Let us begin by referring back to the exchange that the Lord Jesus had with Nicodemus.  The Lord Jesus said “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  What we know for certain is that we cannot even perceive of the kingdom of God unless we are born again.  The word kingdom is becoming en vogue in this generation, much like the prosperity gospel was extremely popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  But a kingdom is a very real concept.  It is a monarchy, with a ruler of one.  We aren’t used to that form of government.  We are accustomed to a democracy, where we have not only have a separation of powers, but we also elect our President and our lawmakers.  In a kingdom, all of those powers rest in one person – the king. In a kingdom, the king is not elected. In our country, the will of the people is sovereign; in a kingdom, the king is sovereign.  The Lord Jesus was telling us that unless we truly renew our way of thinking about governments, specifically kingdoms, then we will be unable to even perceive the kingdom, or rule, of God.  In the exchange with Nicodemus, it was clear that Nicodemus himself did not recognize that he was standing in the presence of the Christ – the One anointed to rule. Nicodemus referred to the Lord Jesus as “Rabbi,” not “Lord.”  Christ was telling Nicodemus that unless his mind was renewed, Nicodemus would be unable to perceive the rule of God standing in his presence.
If you read the gospels carefully, you will find that those who perceived the kingdom referred to the Lord Jesus as either “Lord” or “Christ.”  Those who did not perceive the kingdom referred to Him as rabbi or master.  So what does it mean to be born again? It means that a person is able to perceive that Jesus is Lord, or Messiah, or Christ, and is therefore able to perceive that God fulfilled his promise of a kingdom to Israel.  It means that a person is able to recognize the rule of God in his or her life, and is willing to submit himself or herself to that rule.  In short, being born again is a new way of thinking that results in a new way of living.

Yesterday, we had a powerful time of fellowship discussing kingdom economics.  While studying the true purpose of our work here on this earth, we took some time to examine the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.  The rich man had it all, and lived lavishly on this earth all his days, seeing Lazarus as nothing more than a poor, unfortunate soul; perhaps nothing more than a meager servant.  In the story, both Lazarus and the rich man die; but Lazarus is received into Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man is buried in the ground.  It was in the next part of the story that a powerful revelation was made:
Luke 16:24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
Notice, the rich man doesn’t ask Abraham to dip his finger in water to cool the rich man’s tongue, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus, as if Lazarus is nothing more than a meager servant.  In other words, the rich man’s perception of Lazarus did not change!  It was here that a powerful truth was revealed – whatever mindset you have in this life, is the mindset you will have in the life to come.  If you don’t serve Jesus as Lord in this life, you won’t serve Jesus as Lord in the life to come.  If you can’t see the kingdom of God in this life, you won’t see it in the life to come.  This is why the Lord Jesus told us that being born again in this life is a requirement to even seeing the kingdom of God.  This is also why Paul instructed us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds while we exist in this life.  It is that renewed mind that will facilitate our admission into God’s eternal kingdom.
What is your mindset today?  Is it one of obedience, mercy and compassion, or is it merely seeking to satisfy yourself?  The royal law is to love our neighbors as ourselves.  The instruction is to treat others the way we want to be treated; we are to put others ahead of ourselves.  This is how the world will know the kingdom of God exists, and how God will be glorified in the earth.

Significance – it is the one thing we all seek, even though we don’t realize it.  Why was I created?  What is my purpose?  And true significance comes from only one source – a father.

Beginning Wednesday, March 1 at 7:00 p.m., we will begin a groundbreaking series on adoption and significance.  We will examine adoption from both the natural and spiritual perspectives, followed by understanding what significance is and how we obtain it.  Significance doesn’t come from fame, fortune, or material possessions.  Many people have all of those things, yet lack significance.  Others have none of those things, but because they have significance, they are able to accomplish their purpose with confidence and assurance.

The classes will take place at the CAIN building, 4230 Hamilton Ave. in Northside.  You can also join by phone by calling (712) 775-7031, and using passcode 258126109#.  The classes will be approximately 1.5 hours in length.  Email us at info@fogocinti.org to confirm your attendance.

Yesterday, we quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his book “Life Together.”  Bonhoeffer also showed how such alienation and isolation from the body will result in a critical spirit and accusations against the body of Christ:

“When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that should be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God for leading him into this predicament.  But if not, let him nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God.  Let him rather accuse himself for his unbelief.  Let him pray God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren.”

The deceiver is clever.  Just as the serpent was able to persuade Eve, so the enemy will persuade a man by luring him away from the body.  Once that man is separated, the thoughts then begin to run rampant.  Suddenly, as an outsider, the man “sees things” he hadn’t seen before.  This, indeed, is true, for how he is viewing the body from a different perspective.  He is viewing the body as an outsider.  This, however, is not what Christ intended.  Christ called no person out of the world to be an outsider, or loner.  Christ called us out of the world and into a community.  As Paul wrote “God sets the members in the body, every one of them, as it pleases him.”  God does not set us where we desire to be set; he sets us where it pleases him.  For a person to complain and accuse the body is akin to that person telling God that God did not know what he was doing when he placed that person in the body.  The person may as well tell God “my way is a better way!”  God indeed is building his perfect church, the bride of Christ, from imperfect people. What we, as kingdom citizens must do, is conform to God’s perfect, eternal image, rather than expect that God will conform to our imperfect, temporal, jaded image.