God’s Kingdom is for the Empty-Hearted

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In this week’s cassette tape study, late preacher Ted Kell tells us about the kingdom of heaven, and how we can be in God’s kingdom, starting today into eternity. It’s a glorious existence to serve the King of kings, Lord of lords, Heavenly One, and Creator. Let us define what His kingdom is, and how we go about entering into the gates.

First of all, let’s describe the difference in philosophies between the physical realm and the heavenly realm. With the physical, there’s this philosophy that if you can’t see or touch in tangible form a building or throne, there is no kingdom. People love to visit castles in England, and onion domes in Russia with their colorful tops, and the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, from times gone by; or like the young man who asked our current US President recently on Twitter, “It would be my honor to mow the White House lawn some weekend for you… I have been mowing my neighbors’ lawns for some time” — if there is no stepping into the threshold, no soles of one’s shoes hitting the marble floor before the throne where Abe’s statue sits in the Washington memorial; like that, if it hasn’t been experienced physically, then it can’t be marked off the bucket list, therefore it cannot be said that we ever “entered into the kingdom”.

In heaven’s philosophy, God the Creator made the whole world, and His kingdom is where His throne, and His authority, is. In Isaiah 66:1-2, we can read that God is with the hearts and minds of those who are contrite. (To be contrite means to show remorse or to have the desire for atonement.)

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,’ says the Lord. ‘But on this one I will look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.'”

Kell said, paraphrased, you’re God’s people. Ours is the kingdom. The whole earth is ours — the Alexanders think it’s theirs but it’s not, it’s God. His great victory is ours, too, because God lives in us, within us. We must empty our selves, our egos, in order to receive God’s victory.

With that mindset, we can ask ourselves, what in life can be taken away from a Christian? How does one break a man who is already broken? What’s the victory in beating a man who has already given up the physical? So it is for the kingdom inheritors who accept Jesus’s words as true, and follow His example, becoming brothers and sisters in His blood as we sacrifice our selves on the cross next to Him.

Apostle Paul described his own poor and contrite perspective in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, as he explained his works, along with Apollos’s (another servant of Christ):

 “So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God’s mysteries. Now, a person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful. As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.

“So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.”

It’s mysterious to fathom God’s kingdom, both physically and spiritually, and the sooner we admit the answers don’t come from ourselves, the sooner we will enter into the gates and step before His throne.

Finally, Ted Kell told of a sobering example where soldiers from World War II defined the meaning for us, what it means to lose oneself to gain the kingdom:

7 troops from the Ukrainian army bravely volunteered for a dangerous work -utmost secrecy- against the ominous Nazis who came with tanks and artillery in a complete takeover. They volunteered to conduct a Kamikaze-type journey of blowing up the enemy’s tanks. As they stood before their leader, he began selecting the troops who would carry out the mission, and they waited anxiously to find out who among them were chosen. 7 names were on the board. The leader struck out 3 of the names. Immediately, those 3 troops began to protest, as they thought that being struck out meant they weren’t chosen. “We volunteered!” they objected. “We want to go!” The leader was quick to correct the misunderstanding. “Your names weren’t struck out because you were not chosen. You are chosen. After today, you will no longer be accounted for by the army officials. You 3 cease to exist. We are not responsible for your lives.” The chosen volunteers were going to be removed from the roster- proving the extent of deadliness in their mission.

Through it all, the glory of war did not leave those Ukrainian soldiers, because they chose to sacrifice themselves in the most rewarding call of duty, with their very lives, volunteering headfirst for the suicidal course of action. They even protested when they thought their names were canceled. Likewise, we as kingdom inheritors must voluntarily lose ourselves in order to gain possession of the kingdom. Whoever is willing to lose his carnal, physical life for Jesus Christ’s sake will in return find his spiritual, immortal life. Guaranteed!

“Now when He (Jesus) asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21

 

Girls With Swords, Week 7

“Then Eleazar the priest said to the soldiers who had gone into battle, ‘This is the requirement of the law that the LORD gave Moses: Gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, lead and anything else that can withstand fire must be put through fire, and then it will be clean. But it must also be purified with the water of cleansing.  And whatever cannot withstand fire must be put through that water.” Numbers 31:21-24, NIV

The Israelites had just gained victory over the Midianites, and they brought back the spoils of battle.   Since the Israelites were God’s holy people, they were required to follow strict rules to not defile themselves or the rest of their camp.  To protect themselves from defilement, God gave them this command: purify all the spoils with water and fire.

The Bible uses the example of the refinement of gold and silver many times in the Bible.  Job used the idea first, in Job 23:10.  “…he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

This act of refinement is compared to God’s testing of our hearts.  Daniel received a vision in which he was told of the testing: “Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.” (Daniel 11:33-35. NIV)

Some of the wise will stumble so that they may be refined… God allows his people to make mistakes so that they can grow in character and learn from the mistakes.

“For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to cut you off.  See, I have refined you, though not as silver. I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” (Isaiah 48:9-10, NIV)

We are tested in the furnace of affliction.  To refine gold and silver, a smithy melts it down it a very hot fire, and the fire burns away any impurities in it.  This causes the precious metal to become more pure.

But according to Isaiah, God tests us in the furnace of affliction.  We are made pure by passing through the fires, surviving the trials that God tests us with.

“Therefore this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘See, I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because of the sin of my people?  Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks with deceit, with his mouth each speaks cordially to his neighbor, but in his heart he sets a trap for him. Should I not punish them for this?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?’” (Jeremiah 9:7-9, NIV)

God must refine and test His people to reveal their intentions.  If they are true to Him and striving to be good, then they will become pure from the affliction; but if they are with evil plans, then God will surely punish them like He did with Israel once Israel and Judah split into 2 nations, and Israel grew corrupt.

“Son of man, the house of Israel had become dross to me; all of them are the copper, tin, iron, and lead left inside a furnace. They are but the dross of silver. Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Because you have all become dross, I will gather you into Jerusalem. As men gather silver, copper, iron, lead and tin into a furnace to melt it with a fiery blast, so will I gather you in my anger and my wrath, and put you inside the city and melt you. I will gather you and I will blow on you with my fiery wrath, and you will be melted inside her. As silver is melted in a furnace, so you will be melted inside her, and you will know that I the Lord have poured out my wrath upon you.” (Ezekiel 22:18-22, NIV)

“Praise our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:8-12 (NIV)

God judged his people in the old testament, but where do we fit in?  We, God’s chosen people, can read some wonderful news in the book of Malachi.  (2:17-3:5) “You have wearied the Lord with your words. “How have we wearied him?” You ask.  By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them,” or “Where is the God of justice?”  “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple: the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years. So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerer, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.”

Jesus is the Master Refiner.  We are made pure through Him!  1 Peter 1:3-9 explains it like this: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed at the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of  your souls.”

As all impurities are burned away from gold in the refinement process, our imperfect deeds will be burned away to reveal our pure intentions.  I Corinthians 3:11-18 says “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.  Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.”

When we do our works according to God’s wishes and dedicate our lives for Him, then we will surely receive the inheritance which Jesus is preparing for us.

“In the whole land,” declares the Lord, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, “They are my people,” and they will say, “The Lord is our God.”  (Zechariah 13:8-9, NIV)

(Example of a time you “traveled through flames”) “Not literally, but that time Kathryn got sick with the [ovarian] cyst and had surgery, I was pretty afraid for her. I didn’t eat for days and lost 20 pounds during that time. I thought death was around the corner…” -quote from Lacy’s fencing manual

(Example of a time you “traveled through water”) “We had just gone to Germany. I was still new. We had barely been there a week.  That Sunday (our first Sunday at GK) all the youth were going to camp. I was in new territory. I only knew Kristina from letter writing once or twice.  And yet, I was swept up to join the youth group, to go to Camp Gemunden.  I didn’t want to go to camp [because I was a shy girl], but it was good for me. It was fun, and it strengthened my friendships while I was in Germany.” -quote from Kat’s fencing manual

Girls With Swords, Week 6

“Good men must not obey the laws too well.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

In this week’s study, we were given this quote and asked to explain what we thought it meant.  I really had no clue what to imagine the quote meant, but finally came up with this answer to the challenge:

“It needs context. I went and tried to read a little bit of the essay that the quote is from, and it’s generally about government.  In more entirety, the quote actually says ‘Every actual State is corrupt. Good men must not obey the laws too well.’ The essay also argues the ‘government’ between Laban and Jacob; how Laban and Isaac are the keepers of the land, [and are in charge of making decisions on matters concerning their land, and though Jacob lives there too, he must simply earn his keep.  He has no power over what happens to the land.]  So from the little that I read, maybe it means that there is no HUMAN state that is flawless.  Only God’s state is really Good.” 

Later, my dad shared a new thought with us, a sermon that he had heard spoken, and it cleared my understanding of Mr. Emerson’s quote. It dealt with the story in John 5:1-18. In the story, Jesus was healing a man who couldn’t walk.

When Jesus saw the man and knew that he had been sick for such a long time, Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered, “Sir, there is no one to help me get into the pool when the water starts moving. While I am coming to the water, someone else always gets in before me.” Then Jesus said, “Stand up. Pick up your mat and walk.” And immediately the man was well; he picked up his mat and began to walk.” (verses 6-9, NCV)

According to the laws of love, Jesus did a wonderful thing.  He healed a man who had been trying to reach an angel’s healing touch for 38 years.  Who could have possibly been against such a good act of kindness?

“Because Jesus was doing this on the Sabbath day, some evil people began to persecute him.” (Verse 16, NCV)

As wonderful as was the kindness that Jesus showed to the cripple, the Jews weren’t happy with his work because it was on the Sabbath, which was their holy day of rest.  According to the Jewish laws, no one was allowed to work on the Sabbath.  Jesus, however, never allowed the laws of the Sabbath to stop Him from doing a good deed.

“But Jesus said to them, “My Father never stops working, and so I keep working, too.” This made them try still harder to kill him. They said, “First Jesus was breaking the law about the Sabbath day. Now he says that God is his own Father, making himself equal with God!” (verses 17-18, NCV)

There are many stories where Jesus healed people on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21-31, 3:1-6; Luke 13:10-17, 14:1-6; John 9:1-16).  Jesus was hated for His work.

“Every actual State is corrupt.  Good men must not obey the laws too well.”  Jesus matched the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson perfectly in this story: He is a good man, the only good man on earth, but He didn’t follow the Jewish laws perfectly.  Instead He followed God’s flawless law: love and mercy.

 “Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” Mark 10:18 (NCV)

Amen, Lord Jesus!

“Our Warrior-King is beautiful. His very image is beyond compare. The wondrous span of creation captures a mere fragment of his beauty. The mighty ocean, soaring skies, and majestic mountains declare the powerful, immeasurable, enduring beauty of his strength.  Each and every living thing-from plants to animals- is an irresistible revelation of the fact that our God is gorgeous! He lovingly formed his sons and daughters to carry more of his majesty, glory, and beauty than any other creation.  We are his masterpiece.” –Quote from Lisa Bevere, Girls with Swords

“Being kind to people who see no kindness, or little of it anyway, [moves me].  Also being reliable. I am moved by quality, whether it’s quality of life, writing, behavior- perhaps I have high expectations, but…”    -quote from Lacy’s fencing manual

“Read the Psalms.  All over the place, [the scriptures can bring you perspective when you’re anxious or afraid], it calls God “a fortress”, “a shield”, “my strength”.  I never really understood the concept of the Psalms until we came up with Belaedria, and Escaping the Lair.  Taliesan [our fictional character] is always impressed by the Psalms.  He convinced me that God really is our shield!” -quote from Kat’s fencing manual  

Girls With Swords, Week 5

The chapter this week focused on the cross, and how Satan thought he was victorious as Jesus drew his final breath on the cross and said “It is finished.”  Satan didn’t realize that it was man’s fate of being covered in sin with no hope of redemption that was finished; not God’s wonderful plan of salvation!  Through Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection, we are forgiven! There is no condemnation for us; all that is expected is that we boast in the cross and believe (and proclaim) Jesus Christ is Lord!

“…Aaron will take the two goats and bring them before the Lord at the entrance to the Meeting Tent. He will throw lots for the two goats—one will be for the Lord and the other for the goat that removes sin. Then Aaron will take the goat that was chosen for the Lord by throwing the lot, and he will offer it as a sin offering. The other goat, which was chosen by lot to remove the sin, must be brought alive before the Lord. The priest will use it to perform the acts that remove Israel’s sin so they will belong to the Lord. Then this goat will be sent out into the desert as a goat that removes sin. … He will put both his hands on the head of the living goat, and he will confess over it all the sins and crimes of Israel. In this way Aaron will put the people’s sins on the goat’s head. Then he will send the goat away into the desert, and a man who has been appointed will lead the goat away. So the goat will carry on itself all the people’s sins to a lonely place in the desert. The man who leads the goat will let it loose there.” Leviticus 16:7-10, 21-22

In the Old Testament the Israelites were commanded to use the blood of a lamb for the forgiveness of their sins.  They were also commanded to send out a scapegoat to carry their sins into the wilderness.  Once gone, the sins would be forgotten.

Looking into the future, the prophet Isaiah told how one day a Savior would come to the nation of Israel and save God’s people from the judgment that awaits those who do not respect and obey God.  In Isaiah 49:6, the prophecy even tells how people who are not part of Israel will also be saved by this wonderful Savior. “The Lord told me, ‘You are an important servant to me. You will bring back the tribes of Jacob. You will bring back the people of Israel who are left alive. But, more importantly, I will make you a light for all nations. You will show people all over the world the way to be saved.’(ICB)  God wanted us ALL to be brought into righteousness.

Isaiah 53 is a direct prophecy of Jesus Christ, telling how He would be treated unfairly, killed, and become the sin offering for all who believe in Him. “We all have wandered away like sheep; each of us has gone his own way. But the Lord has put on him the punishment for all the evil we have done.” (verse 6, NCV)

Jesus is not only the Lamb of God which is sacrificed to wash away sins, but He is also the scapegoat which carries the sins of all the people away, no longer to be thought of.

Isaiah also prophecies Jesus’ victory in his resurrection. Isaiah 53:11 says that After his soul suffers many things, he will see life and be satisfied. My good servant will make many people right with God; he will carry away their sins.” (NCV)  Jesus did gain the victory over death, and He offers the same to us.

“He willingly gave his life and was treated like a criminal. But he carried away the sins of many people and asked forgiveness for those who sinned.” (verse 12, NCV)

Praise the Lord!  Thank you, Jesus.

“The cross addresses our raw human tendency that not one of us can escape. Before the cross, we were victims of destiny, our own fate hung over our heads like doom, but after the cross, we had another option: eternal life with Jesus.” –quote from Lacy’s fencing manual

“It’s the blood of lambs that would wash away the sins of the Israelites. A purely good life must be given – its blood spilt, for the sanctification of our own sinful lives.  And so what other way could Christ have saved us?  He is our lamb of God; a sinless, perfect life. He had to fulfill all the prophesies.”  –quote from Kat’s fencing manual

Trust in God, He is Good

“Lord, listen to me and answer me. I am poor and helpless. Protect me, because I worship you. My God, save me, your servant who trusts in you.” Psalm 86:1-2, NCV

As Christians, we say “God is good.” But when we struggle in life, we ask ourselves, “How can a God who is good allow this to happen to me?”

We need to remember: God is not a dictator.  He doesn’t force His will on us. He doesn’t make us want what He wants.  Actually, He wants us to rejoice and to joyfully choose His plan over ours. He wants us to trust that His will is better than our own desires. “This plan of mine is not what you would work out, neither are my thoughts the same as yours! For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours, and my thoughts than yours.” God says in Isaiah 55:8-9; or Jeremiah 29:11 shows what God’s plan for us is like: For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

More often than not, we feel what David expresses in Psalm 86:4, “Give happiness to me, your servant, because I give my life to you, Lord.” (NCV) We need to realize what David exclaims in the very next verse, “Lord, you are kind and forgiving, and have great love for those who call to you.” God loves us, whether good things happen to us or not.  And God will forgive us, even when we doubt His love for us.

God allows us to make our own choices in life.  He will work with whatever we decide. When things happen, maybe its our own choices that cause it, or another person’s.  Instead of asking “How can a God who is good allow this to happen?” we should ask ourselves “Can God see any good coming out of this?” Rest assured the answer is ‘Yes!’ because if the answer was ‘no’, then God would not have let it happen. He would have stopped it.  Romans 8:28 tells us that “…we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” (MSG)  So live according to Psalm 86:7 and take courage in God’s mercy: I call to you in times of trouble, because you will answer me.” (NCV)

Courage is not received by having great knowledge of the Bible, but by trusting in God to help you. In fact, God hides His truths from the wise and reveals them to babes. Spiritual truths are known only by those who accept the Father and the Son in their life. (Matthew 11:25-27) Jesus explains it in Matthew 11: 28-30. “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (MSG)

Paul tells us more in Galatians 5: 16-24:

“I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do.

“But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with it’s passions and its desires.” Galatians 5:16-24 (CEB)

The bottom line: Trust in God and imitate Jesus. Follow the Spirit. Live the prayer in Psalm 86:11, “Lord, teach me what you want me to do, and I will live by your truth. Teach me to respect you completely.” (NCV)

The Lord Will Find a Way for Me

(American folk hymn)

I know the Lord will find a way for me. If I walk in heaven’s light, shun the wrong and do the right, I know the Lord will find a way for me.

 

The Lord has said to preach the word to all the world. If I walk in heaven’s light, shun the wrong and do the right., I know the Lord will find a way for me.

 

Won’t it be grand to hear him say, “Well done!” If I walk in heaven’s light, shun the wrong and do the right, won’t it be grand to hear him say, “Well done!”

 

“The moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along.  If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8:23-28 (MSG)