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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?

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?

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.

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.

Matt. 6:11 Give us today our daily bread.

One simple sentence.  A few short words; but oh, how powerful this appeal.  Christ instructed us to appeal to the Lord God for what we need for this day.  Not for yesterday, which has passed, never to return.  Not for tomorrow, which is not guaranteed.  Our appeal is for this day.
Psa. 118:24 This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.
This is the day that is full of hope, full of promise.  It is full of unknowns; it is full of challenges.  We do not know what this day holds in store for us. We know only that by the grace of God, he has allowed us to experience the light of this day.  And just as God provided manna for the children of Israel for that day and that day alone, he will provide for his servants what they need for this day.  What do you need for this day?  What nourishment must you have for this day in order to accomplish God’s will?  Let us not be presumptuous, assuming what will happen tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year.  Let us not look back with either longing or regret at the days of old.  Let us focus on this day, and let us remember that our source of provision is not our job, it is not our bank account, but rather it is our confidence in the Provider who, just as he cared for the children of Israel while they were in the wilderness, will care for us this day as well.  “For I am the LORD; I change not.” (Mal. 3:6)  The LORD provides for all who obey him.

We at the Ekklesia of the Lord Jesus Christ hope you enjoyed your holiday season!  We are excited about what the Lord has prepared for us this year, and we wanted to share it with you.
Beginning next Sunday, January 8, through the end of March, we will be studying Kingdom Economics.  This series is important to understand because just as God’s Kingdom itself is spiritual, so is God’s economy in his Kingdom.  It does, however, manifest itself in the earth.  But what does it look like?  How does it differ from a worldly economic system?  How will we know we are operating in God’s economy as opposed to man’s economy?  The questions will be answered during this powerful series.
Beginning in April, we will review the book A Glimpse of the Kingdom, which will be a five week series.  Upon the conclusion of this series, we will address the question Who was Paul?  In order to appreciate Paul’s writings, it is important to understand what perspective he wrote from, and why he wrote from that perspective.  We will consider various sources, including those who were critical of the apostle Paul in order to obtain a clearer picture of the man who wrote many of the letters in the New Testament.  After we conclude with this series, we will then read the gospels.  It is extremely important to remember that faith comes by hearing, and many times our learning increases when we hear the Bible, not just read it.
What can we look forward to on Wednesdays?  We will first conclude our teaching on the book The Kingdom of God by John Bright; then, beginning March 1, we will begin a very important series on Adoption and Significance.  If you know someone who has struggled with understanding their significance in Christ, or if you yourself have questioned your own significance, then you need this class.
Our service in the Kingdom of God is just as important as our learning about the Kingdom, so one Sunday a month, usually the third Sunday, we will put what we have learned into action.  We do not assemble for a service; instead, we perform service in the community.  This service is part of our discipleship – we learn, but then we prove what we have learned by doing it.  We are looking forward to what will be accomplished this year, and we pray that 2017 is a year of spiritual growth and maturity for you as well as you press into the Kingdom of God!

Matt. 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.

What exactly does it mean to hunger and thirst after righteousness?  We know how we feel physically when we have been deprived of food or drink for periods of time, but how does that translate to hungering and thirsting after righteousness?  How will we know that we have tasted righteousness?  Even more basic, what is righteousness?  Indeed, these are difficult questions that we cannot avoid.  We must not only meditate upon them, but it is of necessity that we take action upon them.
Fortunately, Paul provided an answer for at least one of those questions.  In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul wrote:
Rom. 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
The kingdom of God IS righteousness.  Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness; blessed are they who hunger and thirst after the kingdom of God.  Blessed are they whose spirits yearn to be citizens of the kingdom of God.  Blessed are they who are famished, who are weak from being deprived of the Holy Spirit.  Truly, God will fill them with His Spirit that they may never hunger again.  

As we approach the end of the calendar year 2016, the question is asked “what can we expect in 2017?”  Before we take a moment to look ahead, let’s take a moment to see what occurred in 2015 and 2016.  In these two years, we were able to read Paul’s letter to the church in Rome and the letter to the Hebrews from a kingdom perspective.  And, in 2016, we have been studying the kingdom of God in a more detailed way through the book “The Kingdom of God” by John Bright.  This teaching has been a blessing to those who have devoted their time to reading and studying this book.
So what will we do with the foundations that have been established?  We will finish the study on the book “The Kingdom of God,” which occurs on Wednesdays, and we will begin a very important teaching on Significance and Adoption.  Beginning Sunday, January 8, we will study Kingdom Economics, which will be followed by a review of the book A Glimpse of the Kingdom.  After the review, we will begin an in-depth study on the apostle Paul.  Understanding the apostle Paul is crucial to a kingdom understanding of his letters.  And don’t forget, Peter stated that Paul’s writings were hard to understand.  This series will help you unravel the complexities of God’s servant to the Gentiles, and enable you to read Paul’s letters from a kingdom perspective.
We pray that you are enjoying this season, and we look forward to sharing more with you in 2017!