Kingdom First

Seek First

The Kingdom of God, also referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven, was the primary focus of Jesus’ teachings. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus tells us to “Seek first His kingdom and his righteousness.” To seek means to make effort to find or achieve something. So what exactly are we looking for and where is it located?

Jesus made it clear that His Kingdom was near (Matthew 3:2), and in fact, it exists within those who believe in Him (Luke 17:21), given that it is a spiritual Kingdom. God’s eternal Kingdom rules universally over all things (Psalm 103:19), transcending all time and all space.

To find the Kingdom, we must enter it as little children (Mark 10:13-16), realizing that we humbly accept His work in us by grace. Repentance, our agreement with God that His ways are better than the world’s, along with belief in Christ, lead a person to a spiritual birth and entrance into the Kingdom (Matthew 3:2; John 3:3-5).

Once in the Kingdom, we live an empowered life! Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have access to a life of love, joy, and peace. As we abide in Christ like a vine connected to the branch, we are able to joyfully obey God’s direction (John 15:5-12) and put to death the evil desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17).
Doing God’s will is evidence that we are living from within the Kingdom (Matthew 7:21).

Our Kingdom lives are about growing in our dependence upon the Spirit—our source of power for godly living. By following the Holy Spirit, our daily wants and cares are replaced by a greater concern for the eternal destination of mankind. Do the matters of Jesus’ eternal Kingdom occupy the greatest place in our hearts and minds? When our primary concern is whether or not God has supremacy authority in our lives, we’re putting the kingdom first.

God’s Word says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).”

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Who does God say YOU are?

Identity

We often hear quoted that we are “new creations” in Christ (2 Corinthians 15). So who exactly are we once we know Jesus? Ephesians 6:17 holds a clue, instructing us to “take the helmet of salvation.” During hand-to-hand combat during biblical days, the only way to tell who was friend or foe was by the armor they were wearing. The same is true when the Dawgs play football. Each team wears a unique helmet color and uniform. Once on God’s team, our helmet of salvation reminds us of who we are because of whose we are. The victory is in knowing our identity because of the gift of salvation.

Consider Jesus. Because He knows who He is, he was able to willingly lay down His life and take it back up again (John 10:17-18). The Father told Him at His Baptism, “This is my son.” So the enemy’s efforts to derail Him in the desert with the question, “IF you are the Son of God . . . “ (Matthew 4:3) did not succeed because Jesus’ identity was clear to Him.

Then there’s Gideon. We find him threshing grain in a winepress because he is afraid the Midianites will steal the crop (Judges 6). And yet the angel of the LORD greets him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Gideon thinks, “Seriously!?” Because He doesn’t recognize his own identity as a “mighty warrior,” he has not been acting like who God says he is.

Don’t miss the key to Gideon’s identity—“The Lord is with you.” The key to knowing his full potential is an understanding that God is with him. In our days, Jesus is not only with us, all of His fullness lives in us (John 14:20)! And He tells us that we are to be “as He is in this world” (1 John 4:17), commissioned to do even greater things than He accomplished as the Son of Man (John 14:12). Further, in anticipation of our doubts, He promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Are we living out of the fullness of our God-given identity by walking in the power and purposes of the One who calls us, or are we allowing fear to keep us from our futures? Our identity realizes its definition within God’s incomparable self-sufficiency.

We do not live the Christian life in our own power, but in God’s. It is God’s ability that makes us able to accomplish anything of value, for apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). It is His strength that makes us mighty, valiant warriors. If we fail to regularly remember who God is, what He has done, and what He is going to do, we will make decisions based on what we can accomplish without Him and never understand the incredible nature of who we are when our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).

When we come to a full understanding of who God says we are, we will begin to act like
ourselves.
Who does God say YOU are?

Where is the “Good” in the News?

Romans 839 God moved our family to Watkinsville from Michigan in 1999. For over a decade after the transition, my heart deeply grieved the pain of being separated from every friend and family member we had ever known.  While the call to relocate was clear, I could not understand why He would send us so far away.  Every time we returned home to visit, saying good-bye all over again only served to exacerbate the separation pain.

During one of those anguishing, tear-filled farewell moments, the Lord impressed strongly on my heart that the separation pain I was feeling is the same way He feels for all time for every person that is separated from Him.  That pain was intended to motivate me further to serve His Kingdom agenda and not my own. 

In more recent days, we learned that our son’s best friend, a strong Christian, husband, and father of four took his own life.  Circumstantial hopelessness that leads to suicide has become a rampant epidemic. The perpetual increase in mass shootings is beyond belief. From the death of a loved one to the impacts of suicide and mass murder, our entire nation is feeling unprecedented separation pain.  That pain is coupled with an unspoken fear as we recognize our personal inability to control others’ choices and the resulting, soul-crushing impacts.

So how are we as believers to respond in our hearts and with our lives when it appears that evil and darkness are winning the battle?  We PRAY.

Like Nehemiah, we first repent on behalf of the sins of our entire nation because of all of the ways that our culture has fostered hatred and division. Jesus prayed that we would be one—as close to one another as He is to the Heavenly Father (John 17:11 & 21). And yet, attitudes of “us” against “them” permeate our culture. We expend extraordinary time and energy fighting against one another, forgetting that the real, greater battle is against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12).

Do we recognize that those who harm anyone made in God’s image have been taken captive by satan to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26)? We must ask God to forgive those who have exercised their freedom to choose in ways that have resulted in such tremendous pain, and to give them His gift of repentance.

Through prayer, we entreat God’s protection from the evil one (John 17:15; Matthew 6:13).  But when sudden loss does happen, God’s servant Job provides a stunning example of our response as those who believe in His Name (Job 1: 20-22). First, we grieve appropriately.  And then we rob the enemy of his joy by not allowing him to steal ours.  No matter what our earthly eyes see, we praise God.  We leave our “Why?” questions at His feet and thank Him for eternity where the matter of evil, loss, pain, sin, sickness despair and every sorrow will be redeemed for His glory.  We thank God for His unending goodness even in those moments when we cannot make sense of such painful tragedies.

God’s peace that surpasses all understanding is the most powerful weapon against evil. Let’s pray to release God’s peace into every circumstance where there is hatred, turmoil, or hopelessness.  Let’s also ask God to release His perfect peace into every place where our own hearts are hurting and afraid. May He return us to the joy of knowing that we are His (Psalm 51:12) so that we are able feel, think, act, and speak like who we are because of whose we are.

There is a fate worse than death.  That fate is eternal separation from God (Luke 13:1-5).  May the separation pain we feel today, understood in the context of God’s great love for all of mankind, be the jet fuel that propels us to share the Good News that only Jesus HAS and IS the answer to every problem, question, and painful situation we face.

–Dr. Marcia Wilbur, ACMin President

For Freedom Christ Set Us Free!

4th of July

As our nation prepares to celebrate its independence from England, we are reminded of how fortunate we are to live in a country where we are free to live, love, work, and worship. Our hearts are thankful for past and present generations of brave souls who have ensured and protected those freedoms.

In Galatians 5:1 we read, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Because Jesus died on the cross, as believers, we can celebrate our independence every day, having been set free from satan’s dark kingdom into God’s everlasting Kingdom!

Do we stop to consider that while the majority of people living in the U.S. enjoy daily political and cultural freedoms, without Christ, they remain in a form of everlasting bondage? Are we fighting as hard for unbelievers to be set free from the yoke of eternal slavery as we are to protect our personal civil rights?

For starters, why would an unbeliever even want to convert to Christianity? All too often, being a Christian is understood by onlookers as being a bunch of stuffy, judgmental, rules-restricted, hypocritical church-goers. Christians appear to be anything but free with all the rules and rituals.

May the LORD cause us to be His Freedom Ambassadors, fighting to set people free from death and darkness by radiating Jesus’ light and love wherever He sets our feet in this country and to the nations. May our thoughts, words, and actions reflect the realities of God’s Kingdom where there is no hatred, no division, no jealousy, no gossip, no self-promotion, no sickness, and no lack. In their place may we sow seeds of unity, grace, peace, mercy and blessing! And may we have compassion for the captives as we lay down our lives for their freedom in Christ!

Others’ freedom will cost us something. Are we brave enough to fight for them?

Abundantly More

Abundantly More

Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly [infinitely] more than we can ask or imagine by His power working in us. The Message translation says, “far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” Verse 21 explains that this truth exists so that God will be glorified throughout all generations.

What is the seemingly impossible thing that you would like to see God do that would give Him much glory? Cause you to love an “enemy?” Restore a decade-long relationship? Unify our nation? Heal a sick child? Move a mountain?

There is a story of a woman who won the lottery. When asked what she would do with her millions, she said she would buy a “double-wide” (mobile home). She could have afforded a mansion, but because she couldn’t comprehend the vastness of her wealth, she only dreamed of a small upgrade to her current circumstances. Are we content to pray “double-wide” prayers? Have we stopped dreaming big dreams because they seem far too impossible, and because dreaming big dreams would mean risking disappointment? Have we robbed God of His glory by the smallness of our faith?

What is our part in ensuring that God is glorified?

First, we need to dream with God. He created the universe. He is a creator, and we are made in His image. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.” God’s desires become our desires—and His desire is to see His Kingdom come! So as we bring our big dreams before God’s heart, He molds and shapes those dreams in ways that will build His eternal Kingdom and glory. His Kingdom has no end, so our dreams should have no limits! While God is interested in both the small details of our lives as well as the big dreams, it’s red-sea sized testimonies that show the watching world that God is who He says He is.

Second, we need to trust God that His promises are real and true (2 Corinthians 1:20). His Word reminds us that all things are possible with God (Mark 10:27). And Jesus said that He will do whatever we ask in His name so that the Father will be glorified. Because “No word of God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:37) May He cause our faith to rise up to His level of promise so that we believe Him for the fulfillment of the big dreams that He puts in our hearts.

And third, we must come to recognize that it is His power in us that accomplishes His magnificent answers. That means it’s our job to access all the dunamis power that is ours when we are in Christ (Ephesians 1:19-20). So how do we move mountains? One key is in Matthew 17:20; we speak to the mountain with faith. And we pray big, bold prayers with confidence according to His will, asking that He not limit the size of His response by the size of our ask.

“May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in him, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13) May we hope in nothing less than the power of Almighty God who desires to bless us and glorify the fame of His Name! Let’s unleash opportunities for God to be glorified by asking in faith for the realization of of all that He wishes to accomplish in big and mighty ways!

 

 

In The Waiting Room

Waiting Room

In Revelation 1, John wrote a prophetic vision some 2000 years ago about “…what must soon take place . . .because the time is near.”  That was two centuries ago!  How can at least 2000 years mean “soon!!?”  Remember, God sees all time from beginning to end, and in light of eternity, 2000 years is nothing! God’s people eagerly wait for Christ’s return, and in the meantime, we wait for the fulfillment of His promises to us and His abundant answers to our prayers. What is the condition of our hearts when the waiting process (during our finite days on earth) seems to last far longer that we expect it should?

Have you ever had to wait for more than 2 or 3 hours past your scheduled time due to a flight delay or a doctor dealing with an emergency?  What is your emotional response to such a prolonged wait and the resulting inconvenience to your day?  What does the waiting room feel like based on the emotions that the other delayed folks are verbalizing?  Joy isn’t likely at the top of the list.  Rather, grumbling, complaining, irritation, anger, and frustration are the more likely wafts of unhappiness filling the room.

For the saints, our countenance in God’s waiting room should look much different!  After all, He has promised to hear and respond, He is presently in the waiting room with us, and He is teaching us about Himself and us in HIM while we wait!

Here are just a few thoughts about what we can DO while we sit in God’s waiting room in order to protect ourselves from anger, despair, and even offense towards God.

  1. Thank God. Thank Him for the privilege of prayer and worship! Thank Him for the answers that are being crafted in the heavenly realm.  Thank Him for the grace to receive His best answers when they come!
  2. Change your focus. Instead of focusing on your yet unanswered prayer, blessing, or calling, get your eyes off your prayer and onto the One who will transform your heart while you wait, as He builds strength and perseverance in you.
  3. Enter into others’ prayers. Talk to the other folks in the waiting room.  Find out what answers they are waiting for and join with them in contending for their miracle.  Being part of someone else’s breakthrough will strengthen your faith for your own.  And you will witness outbreaks of great joy in the waiting room—joy that transforms the atmosphere of irritation and despair!
  4. Release your expectations of God. Rather than holding God hostage for the breakthrough that you expect, set Him free to culminate your waiting room experience with something that is exceedingly abundantly more that you have asked or imagined—or drastically different from how you believed He would answer. He is God, not a genie or a personal vending machine!
  5. Seek God. There is no place in heaven or on earth where God is not presently present. He is in His waiting room.  Go sit next to Him.  Talk with Him. Find out what He is up to and ask Him what He thinks about your perceived delay.  Get to know Him and His purposes even better so that your trust in Him will not falter. The scriptures tell us that in His presence there is fullness of joy!  Joy is a choice—are we choosing it over fear and despair while in His waiting room?

God’s waiting room is a place in our hearts where we will always find Him, waiting for us to come to Him.  He waits there patiently for us.  Perhaps we can learn to wait like He does, with the enduring confidence that the outcome of the stories is always good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes.

 

One Story

Passover

In God’s story from Genesis through Revelation, there is strong emphasis on remembering how God shows His faithfulness to His chosen people, the Israelites, and by adoption to the Gentiles.

Jewish tradition celebrates Passover this April 19th through the 27th to commemorate the events leading up to and including Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 12). Because the Hebrew families each killed a lamb and spread its blood over the door frames of their homes, the Angel of Death spared the firstborn of the Israelites, but took the first born children and livestock in all of Egypt. The Hebrews were spared because of the blood of the lamb! God commanded them to roast the lambs and eat all of the meat. This meal would give them physical strength for their journey.  They left Egypt in haste and thus they carried their bread wrapped in cloths on their backs before yeast had been added. Hence the tradition of eating unleavened bread during Passover.

During the Passover meal—the Seder—each part of the meal is eaten to remember the bitterness of Egyptian slavery, how God spared the Israelites from death, and their passage out of Egypt.  One part of the meal looks forward.  It’s called the “afikomen.”  One of the pieces of unleavened bread is broken, wrapped in a cloth, and placed out of view.  After the Seder, children are sent to look for the afikomen and often receive a prize for finding it.

While the Passover celebration is largely a remembrance of how God delivered His chosen people, the afikomen points forward to Christ.  In the Bible, leaven or yeast often symbolizes sin.  Jesus is known as the “bread of life.”  Because He led a perfectly sinless life, representing Him as “unleavened” is a beautiful reminder of His holiness.  Jesus’ body was broken, wrapped in grave clothes, and hidden out of sight.  When He was seen after the resurrection, there was great joy among His disciples.  The afikomen is such a beautiful reminder of the resurrected Jesus!

In Christian tradition, we celebrate Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday and culminating in Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  During Holy Week we recall the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and miraculous resurrection.  Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples as the “last supper.” As He served them the bread and wine—components of the Passover meal—He declared the bread to be His body and the wine His blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).  At that moment, Jesus added meaning to the historical understanding of the Passover meal.  1 Corinthians 11:36 tells us that “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” By taking communion, we remember what Jesus did to redeem us from our sins, and we look forward to His return.

This year, Holy Week, April 14-21, overlaps with Passover.  What a beautiful reminder that the stories Jews and Christians celebrate are not separate stories, but rather, components of the same story of our God who SO loves the world!  It’s HIS-story!  By remembering Passover, we see a preview of how the blood of the lamb saves God’s people from physical death. And the afikomen gives us a glimpse ahead to our Savior.  When Jesus shed His blood on the cross, His blood made a way for those who believe in Him to be saved from eternal death. And we look eagerly forward to His return and the redemption of all things.  By remembering what has been accomplished thus far, we can be certain that the best is yet to come!