“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

Jesus calls His disciples to seek to promote the needs and agenda of His Kingdom first over all our own needs. This is because when we look at people in the world who are prospering we are often tempted to compromise with the ideology of the world and compromise with sin, to seek our own agenda over God’s. This is easy if we buy into the lie that the media loudly proclaims that we are missing out on the important issues of life if we do not have this house or take that vacation or are not enjoying our life with food, feasting and fun!

Jesus reminds us that the life to which He calls us is the most important issue of existence, not money, fame or pleasure. He tells us that we should not worry about anything not even the things we need. He is telling us, His people, that our worries and concerns in this life are unrealistic. As long as we trust Him, we should not worry or fret because He will supply us with everything we need, not all the extras that we think we cannot live without. As we face the future it is easy to lose faith, to forget that Christ is going to return. Yet when we face the future with hope and expectation that He will, we will begin to realize that all the injustices we see will be righted and all the suffering we endure now will vanish. Therefore we should always be mindful that since we have been called into God’s kingdom we must then carry out the work He has given us with gladness and peace. The entire resources of His kingdom are at our disposal. We are to use those resources, not to glorify ourselves or increase our personal prosperity or prestige but build His kingdom, not ours. Then we will have all that we need and will be blessed with the peace of God.

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Accepting the call of God.

Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a youth”; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.’ Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.'” (Jeremiah 1:6-9)

Jeremiah was called at the start of good King Josiah’s religious reformation. His call was to proclaim God’s judgment which would come without fail even though the reforms would delay it. The 2 visions detailed in the ensuing verses confirm this. The almond tree is a harbinger of spring so it is a sign that God is working and in control. His judgment is just beginning to dawn. The boiling cauldron is a sign of that judgment which will sweep Judah away. Jeremiah was going to be subject to abuse and mockery from the people of Judah for he would preach this message for 20 years before the judgment would come.

Jeremiah hesitated to take up the call but not because he knew this. He did not. He was not afraid of the people or how they would accept such a severe message. The problem was that he knew his own temperament, that he was not wise, strong or gifted enough to deliver it, to be a prophet. He knew that he could not do what the Lord asked of him. Yet the Lord promised to give him all the resources and strength to carry out the call. In fact, whenever God calls one of us to do His work in any way, He always supplies us with the power, authority, words and wisdom we need so that weakness and lack of ability is never an excuse: it is what qualifies us.

The Common Good

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:7, ESV)

The Corinthian Christians were proud of themselves and boasted in their spiritual maturity. They felt that they had already attained perfection. This pride and arrogance left them blind to their faults which included an elitist attitude, a lack of love, and serious theological misconceptions. Paul let them know that part of their problem was an overzealous concern for the gifts of the spirit notably prophecy and speaking in tongues. To the Corinthians these two gifts in particular were the signs that they were spirit-filled and above earthly concerns and problems. They maintained that all spiritually superior believers had to manifest such gifts (much as many contemporary Charismatic groups do today). Naturally this attitude led to factions, divisions and disagreements.
Their treatment of these gifts was no different from their previous behavior as pagans, before they came to the Lord, since such ecstatic utterances were part of some pagan rituals and cults (and still are). Yet as Christians they felt that the manifestation of these gifts of powerful utterance were true evidence of God’s presence with them. Paul points out that these gifts were given by God for mutual edification and the exaltation of the Lord Jesus, not the self. All the gifts are given by the Holy Spirit as He wills and they are not meant for personal glorification. Thus each believer needs every other one in the church so that as the church they may properly function as God’s Kingdom on earth. This requires different gifts and talents. Diversity of gifts is the indication of the Spirit’s presence.  Pride and self-centeredness are not.

Devotion to God.

 

“And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’”

What Jesus did by staying behind in the Temple may seem to be quite irresponsible for it seems to show an apparent disrespect for his parents. But we know that is an incorrect assumption for it would be entirely inconsistent with His sinless nature. Mary and Joseph had assumed that Jesus was with their group of fellow travelers from Nazareth, so they went a whole day without feeling the need to check on him. This shows how much they trusted Jesus who could be trusted to always do the right thing and exercise good judgment.

Jesus was not irresponsible: he had a good reason for staying behind. Luke tells us that this incident occurred when Jesus was 12. In Jewish tradition, the 12th year is the final year of theological training for a boy before he enters full participation in the religious life of the community and becomes a man. Up until that time his parents, especially his father, teach him the law. At the end of the 12th year the boy formally becomes a bar mitzvah or “son of the commandment.” When Jesus chose to stay behind in the temple, He was demonstrating His intense devotion to the Law as he began that year of preparation. He wanted to show the leaders of the Jews and His parents that He was not like any other boy, to demonstrate that His relationship to God was the essence of His being.

There is a lesson for us here about the cost of discipleship. If we are disciples of Jesus, then He has a claim on our life one which conflicts with human desires not only our own but those of others especially our families. Such desires include social acceptance, loyalty to family, economic prosperity and other worthy ideals. The hardest decisions we have to make call for us to choose between such options. However, if we are honest, most choices concern superficial and trivial things that center on our own fleshly desires, things we pursue with more zeal and energy than the things of God.

The example of Jesus teaches us that faith in God should affect every area of our lives in a profound and fundamental way. The Christian faith is not just a part of our life, not just a matter of appealing to God when we get into trouble or need something. It is more than just a matter of fulfilling prescribed religious obligations. Like Jesus, we are called to do our Father’s work, to subordinate all other priorities to God’s call and purpose. This will mean we have to give up our agenda, surrender our plans and goals to the Father to do His will and to accomplish the goals of the kingdom of God.

Working for God’s Kingdom.

 

 “And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:48-49,ESV)

As the Christmas season draws to a close, I feel relieved. I am tired of all the consumerism and materialism that the media has been bombarding us with. I am tired of being told what I need to buy, what I need to have. I am tired of hearing of rude crowds of people who claim the holiday season is a time of peace and joy but treat their fellow human beings with barbarity and disrespect. I’m tired of hearing about people giving to those who already have too much, while forgetting the poor and needy. The season is supposed to be about Jesus who came to give joy and peace to people who do not deserve anything, not about making money or amassing kudos.

As the season passes, we are faced with a question “After Christmas, then what?” Well, after Christmas a lot of people are going to crash and burnout. They ignored Jesus while putting a lot of energy into shopping, cooking, eating, decorating, partying and entertaining relatives and friends. They who are either did not consider Jesus at all or put Him on the side while they went off and did their own thing.

Without the help of God, the strength He gives, the strength that comes from living in humble obedience to His will, it is quite common for people to feel exhausted, depressed and sad. What makes things worse is New Year’s Day. Many people celebrate by partying. Many claim that they party because they are happy to be facing a new year with hope and promise. But many face the year with only a superficial hope that things will always improve or at least continue as before. They think God or the gods or fate will continue to bless them no matter what they do, or how they live.

But deep down many harbor feelings of fear, uncertainty and doubt. They try to make themselves feel better, by counteracting those troublesome feelings of dread and anxiety with partying. Once they sober up and the year begins, they will continue to suppress these feelings and thoughts by numbing themselves with alcohol, drugs, work, exercise, music, video games or the internet. After Christmas, then, for most people, it’s business as usual.

A lot of us Christians do the same thing. A lot of us fall into the pattern of the world’s ways of thinking and acting. We forget to rely on God. We forget to ask Him how we should be spending our Christmas holiday season. We forget to ask Him what we should be doing with our lives. We continue to do what we want to do without considering that God may have other plans. Failure to consider what God wants from us is often the reason why we feel so exhausted, why we fall so easily into sin and compromise, why we neglect to be kind to others and forgive those who offend us. We are too busy building our kingdom rather than the kingdom of God

The question about what happens, what we need to do after Christmas is answered by Jesus in the passage from Luke. I must be in my father’s house doing my father’s business.

The Light of The Messiah!

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:1-3, ESV)

Although Isaiah is prophesying encouragement to the Jews going into exile in Babylon, his words foretell the Incarnation of Christ Jesus as well as the visit of the Magi, the feast we celebrate as Epiphany. Yet Epiphany also marks the fulfillment of God’s promise to grant salvation to all people. As the Magi were drawn by the light of the star to worship Jesus, so the glory of the Messiah is the light of the world that draws all men and women to Him. He comes to save those who are living in darkness, that is, all peoples of the earth not just the Jews. He speaks the truth that dispels the darkness of the devil’s lies that have enslaved all sinners and all who worship false gods. His light brings the bright glory of God’s salvation and His kingdom.

This glory is a case of “already but not yet” fulfillment. It was not fulfilled when the exiles returned from Babylon. It was not fulfilled at the time of Jesus’ birth or resurrection from the dead although it dawned then. The church is the beginning of the fulfillment of the glorious kingdom of God, but the complete fulfillment awaits God’s time of choosing.

Isaiah portrays this new kingdom as a new act of creation. Genesis 1 tells us that when God created the heavens and the earth He created them by dispelling the darkness on the face of the deep. Here He creates His kingdom by dispelling the darkness of sin. In the new Kingdom all will be light for God will be there. As we await that day with hope, we are to let His light shine through us to all peoples so they may know of the love of God who offers forgiveness, mercy, and eternal life to all.

A Light to the Nations.

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32, ESV)

Simeon was a man who remained faithful to the law of the Lord. He was righteous, devout and filled with the Holy Spirit. He held on to a promise that the Lord had given him many years ago, that he would see the Messiah before he died. Simeon had lived many years, and had seen things go from bad to worse as his people were enslaved by the Roman Empire with Herod installed as their puppet ruler over Jerusalem and Judea. During his long years, Simeon had no doubt also seen many false Messiahs and witnessed much injustice, violence, bloodshed, deprivation and suffering.

Maybe as he looked back at His life, he had no clue as to what the Lord was doing and what part he had to play. As he grew older, the temptation to doubt could have become very strong for the likelihood of the Lord fulfilling His promise was more remote. Perhaps others in his family and in Jerusalem, lacking his faith, thought he was a fool, unworthy of attention or admiration. And then the Spirit led him into the temple on the day that Mary and Joseph came to offer sacrifice according to the Law of Moses. The baby Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise he had held onto all his life. He uttered a prophecy that the Lord had ordained for him to speak all his life. These words were from the prophet Isaiah and indicated that this child he held was the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation for all mankind. The Messiah was a light to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. The Jews were not the only ones to benefit from God’s salvation. The promise was extended even to their enemies and those who had enslaved them, to those who did not even know that the Lord is the one true God. Salvation has come to the entire world in this one baby.

As we begin a New Year we Christians ought to take note: Jesus came to bring peace to all. His word of salvation must be proclaimed to everyone. We are His servants. He is in us as a light that we must give to the world, to strangers, to those we fear and hate, to our enemies. He is the light of truth, the light of peace for the entire world.