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What the kingdom of God is…not

In CS Lewis’ book The Last Battle, which is the seventh and last book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, towards the end of that book he writes about a garden that Aslan, the lion, leads Lucy and her friend Mr. Tumnus to.  He writes:

The further up and further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.  Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden at all but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.  “I see,” she said, “this is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below. … I see…world within world, Narnia within Narnia.” “Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.

“World within world, Narnia within Narnia.”

This is CS Lewis’ poetic description of the new heaven and the new earth.  The kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God. This kingdom started all the way back when time began in the garden of Eden.  The place where God, nature, and mankind had perfect harmony. We have an idea of what this kingdom looked like at the beginning.  We have a faint idea of what it will look like in the future. Last week we talked about the kingdom of God today is anywhere where God reigns as king.  We want Him to reign here at Annapolis. We want his kingdom to come here so that His will can be done here on earth just like his will is being done in heaven.  Today we are going to talk about what the kingdom of God is, not.

You and I were created to be a part of something big.  In fact, we are a part of something huge. If we look back to Genesis 1 and 2, Adam and Eve were created to do more than take care of themselves.  To just survive. They were given amazing intelligence and abilities, unlike any human. They were told to name the animals, tend the garden, and multiply.  To do anything less would have been, well, inhuman.

You and I, we were created to do more than just drag ourselves to school.  Survive the time we are here. Do enough work to not get in trouble by our teachers and parents.  Waiting until we get a chance to do what we really want. To do those things that entertain us. Give us pleasure.  Like watching TV. Playing video games. Getting on our phone or tablet. Play with our toys. To do the things we want to do.

We know that there is a kingdom of God but there is another kingdom that is not the kingdom of God.  You know whose kingdom it is by seeing who is king or queen over it. Who is at the center of it. In Narnia, for a good part of the first book, Narnia is under a spell of winter because who was reigning over Narnia as its queen?  The white witch was at the center of Narnia. It was her cold kingdom because she was queen. Let me tell you a story and you tell me who is at the center of this kingdom.

I was talking to some parents and their child.  As I was talking to the adults, the boy kept interrupting.  His mom would tell him to go play, and he would say “No!” Over and over it was happening.  The parent would say, do you want a toy? No! Why don’t you go play? No! It finally got so bad that when he said no, he then stomped on the foot of his parent’s foot.  Now tell me, who is the king of this kingdom? Who is at the center? That boy. So what kingdom is he living for at that moment? The kingdom of God? No. The kingdom of me.  The kingdom of self. It is easy to see a young child throwing a tantrum and see what I am talking about but it is much harder to realize that we all struggle with which kingdom we are living for.     

You see we were never meant to be queens and kings of our own little kingdoms where the population of that kingdom is us.  Population of one. But when we focus on ourselves, we close out the world around us and our world gets tighter and tighter into ourselves.  How many of you have bought a toy that was covered in shrink wrap? You know that clear plastic that the manufacturer puts on a package and then heats it up so it literally shrinks and tightly wraps around the object.  This is what the kingdom of self is. It is focused on my needs, my wants, my desires. Me, me, me. And you get shrink-wrapped into your kingdom of self.

As you and I start putting our needs, our wants, and our desires above all else we literally close in the huge world that God has created into a smaller and smaller world.  When we think about ourselves first. When I try to get out of chores. When I don’t give my best at something because it is easier. When I choose to do what I want to do, not do what I am asked to do.  When I spend time playing video games instead of helping around the house. When I fight with my parents to do homework. All these little decisions don’t seem like a big deal but each one makes your life smaller and smaller.  

When we live for the kingdom of self, our world is small.  We really are not fully human.  It is only when we live for a much bigger kingdom, the kingdom of God do we start to become fully human, as God created.  

One thing they don’t have in Nebraska is an ocean.  There is a sea of red but that is something completely different.  (You knew I wouldn’t be able to make it very long without a husker reference).  One of the things that I love about living here is going to the beach and seeing all that water.  That huge sky. Perhaps to those that have lived here for a while, it’s not that big of a deal, but I still pause to look out because it is so awesome.  I love the water not only because I love to fish but because you can’t help but feel small compared to it. I think it is a good reminder of how the kingdom of God is.  It is this awesome, huge kingdom, like looking out over the ocean on a beautiful day with a massive amount of sky everywhere. We are called to live in that kingdom. A world within world, Narnia within Narnia.  It just keeps going on and on.

So how do we do that?  How do we live for God’s kingdom and not for the kingdom of self?  The biggest thing that needs to happen is that we need to stop thinking about ourselves.  Stop trying to do things because it is what you want to do. Instead, serve. Serve God. Serve others.  Hustle…to help out. The apostle Paul put it this way:

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others.

Paul wrote that nothing should be done through selfish ambition.  Selfish ambition is the motivation, the reason why you do something, is to put yourself first, your interests first, me first.  That’s selfish ambition. You see it when you have two people stepping through a narrow door at the same time, instead of one stopping and holding the door.  You see it when someone picks up a toy and someone else rips it out of their hands. You see it when a teacher asks the class to do their work and someone has to turn around one more time to say one last thing.

All these little decisions are one more wrap of plastic around your tiny life.  This all leads to this question. Which kingdom are you daily living for? Is it the kingdom of self where it is all about you in this small, shrinking world.  Just like being wrapped up in plastic wrap. Or are you living for the kingdom of God? Where God reigns in this huge, expansive kingdom where truth, beauty, and goodness are the foundation.  Love for God and love for neighbors are the most important things. This kingdom grows and gets bigger the more you explore it. You see people, not in the way of your happiness, but as God sees them.  As my neighbor. And your desire is to think highly of them and to serve them in love. Is Annapolis a place where there are 143 little kingdoms all doing their own thing? Or are we all working to be a part of one big kingdom where God reigns?  We must get to know this great king and to know how to serve Him. We do that by turning to the wonderful words of life.

Faith

We will be studying the beatitudes this school year and how Jesus calls his children to live and work in God’s kingdom.  Today we are going to talk about the thing that allows you to be a part of God’s kingdom and that is faith. You can’t just show up at the door, ring the doorbell and say, I’m here, let me in.  In order to be a part of God’s kingdom, which is something so much greater than you or I, there has to be a radical transformation and commitment of the heart, and that is called faith. But not only does faith get you through the door to God’s kingdom, you are also called to daily live by faith.  

I want you to think about something.  There is a difference between amazement and faith.  You can be amazed at something but that doesn’t mean you put your faith into it.  I remember seeing someone bungee jump for the first time. You know that great idea of strapping yourself to elastic bungees and jumping off high places, to bounce around dangling there, for fun.  The first time I saw someone do that was at a fair. Extreme sports was just beginning and I had literally never seen anything like it. It was a huge crane where people would climb up this small ladder to the top platform.  They would get strapped in and then step off plunging to the ground only to be jerked back up. Down and up. I was in utter amazement. I just stood there. Now there was no way that I was going to put my faith into that crane, into those bungees or into those workers hands.  

In the gospel of Mark chapter 6 is a story of Jesus and His disciples.  Jesus sends the crowd away, he makes his disciples get into a boat to sail across the lake and then Jesus goes up a mountain to pray.  In the evening, a storm comes up. The disciples in the boat have been fighting this storm for about 8 hours. Can you imagine 8 hours of rowing in a wind-tossed sea?  They are literally going nowhere. Jesus comes down from the mountain and walks on this stormy water. Let me stop right there. Jesus walks on water. There is now no doubt of who He is, this shows He is the Lord of all, Creator, and King because no one in the universe can do that except God.  And how are we not blown away and stop and fall on our knees in worship? But we read that story and think, oh, that’s cool.

We have all been blessed to hear God’s Word read to us.  In school. Most schools it is very different. In fact, October 4th is Bring your Bible to School day because most kids your age don’t bring their Bible to school because they are afraid to.  They have been told not to. We should be in prayer for our fellow Christians who do not have the same access to God’s Word. You and I have been richly blessed to be in a school that has chapel.  Bible class. Prayer. But my fear is that we begin to start looking at our Bible as if it’s just another textbook and just another literature story. Reading the Bible is a relationship with the God of the Bible.  We are not meant to just read the Bible, but it is a way to meet the God of the Bible. A pastor Paul David Tripp says it this way,

“Your job is not to just master the Word but be mastered by the God of the Word.”

The passage in Mark reads,

And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.”

If all Jesus wanted to do was to stop the storm, he could have just said “be still” while he was on the mountain.  Instead, He takes a walk. In the storm. On the water. Why? He is not after the storm. It has nothing to do with blue skies and calm seas for sailing.  He is after them. The disciples. Their hearts.

Here is what is interesting.  Why are those disciples in a boat out in the middle of the stormy seas?  Were they running away? Did they do something wrong? No, in verse 45 it says Jesus made His disciples get in the boat.  Jesus put them in there. Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. And put them in that boat, in that storm, because he was after something far greater than a little peace and quiet while he prayed.  He was after their hearts.

Why are you all here at Annapolis this year?  Are you here because your parents made you come here?  Perhaps but at a much deeper level, you are here because Jesus put you here.  I am here because Jesus called me here. The staff is here because Christ has called them here.  He put us all in this boat together. Hope you brought a paddle. And perhaps a life jacket if you can’t swim yet.     

More than just you and I being here.  God is here. He is present in our songs.  He is present in the Bible that we read. The verses we memorize.  But here is the danger. You can be amazed by hearing what you hear in Bible class-the cool stories like Jesus walking on water, you can be amazed at singing songs of worship, amazed by learning new things, amazed by good friends, you can be amazed by all of these things here at Annapolis, but not be living by faith.

Faith is a commitment of your heart to a new truth that changes the way you live your life.  Faith is more than your mind being blown. It is believing that the Jesus that I read about in my Bible, is king over all, including my life.  And I will do what He tells me because I love Him so much. It will change my life. Every day, my life will be changed more and more to be more obedient to what the Bible says.  It will be seen in how I obey my teachers. How diligently I do my school work. And how I honor others.

There is a profound difference between amazement and faith.  The passage in Mark says the disciples did not understand about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.  What? How was that possible? Jesus has just fed the 5,000 and then walked on water and calmed the sea. And their hearts were hardened?  A hard heart means it won’t change. It is like a rock. I can’t mold it. It is resistant to change. A soft heart can be molded and changed.  Here is the big question. Why did the disciples have a hard heart? They had a hard heart because they did not want change because they were satisfied with who they were.  

Your biggest challenge this year, and mine, is not that we are dissatisfied with who we are but that we are all too satisfied. We don’t hunger for the change of the lessons that we are being taught again and again and again.  We read God’s Word and think nothing of it. We hear our teachers tell us about God’s truth and we don’t think about what they are saying. We are corrected by our parents about the same things again and again. We disobey and face consequences but we do not want to change.  If this is you, and if I am honest, this is me sometimes, the warning from this passage in Mark is beware of a hard heart. One that chooses not to change. One that is content with a little faith. The challenge is do not be satisfied. Allow God’s Word to soften your heart because in His word you find a loving Savior who wants nothing less than a heart that is full of faith and courageously advances the kingdom of God starting right here at Annapolis.   

This school year there should be a hunger and thirst for righteousness.  When we get to go to Bible class again, do we think, I can’t wait! What, are you giving me another verse to memorize, yes!  When teachers point out the truths of God in science and books, do we think I cannot get enough of this? Are we in awe of the beauty of God in art and music?  In awe of how fearfully and wonderfully our bodies are made when we are in PE? Is our faith in a God who is in control of all things strengthened when we see the order and harmony in math?  Every day and in every subject, God’s Word and God’s truth is there so that your faith and my faith can grow.

We will not find that radical transformation of our heart that Jesus is calling us all to unless we deeply love the Bible, the wonderful words of life.

Consequences

It seemed like such a small thing at first.  It would be much easier and no one was around to catch them doing it.  Christian and Hopeful had just escaped the horror that was Vanity Fair.  In John Bunyan’s classic book, Pilgrims Progress, he describes Christian’s journey from the city of destruction to the celestial city.  As Christian nears the end of the journey, he and his companion Hopeful, find that the good path runs along a very difficult ground.  They are discouraged until they come to a meadow. This beautiful meadow is called By-path Meadow. Christian thinks the meadow might be easier so he climbs over the wall to have a look.  It appears that path is going the same way as the good path so he convinces Hopeful to climb over the wall and travel this easier way. This new path is much easier and they really start making good time.  They meet another pilgrim named Vain-confidence who tells them proudly he knows the way and they follow him. It becomes very dark and they lose sight of Vain-confidence but continue on until they hear a loud cry and a heavy thud. Creeping forward, they find that Vain-confidence has been killed by falling into a deep pit.  Christian and Hopeful turn back, hardly knowing the way or where they are. It is not only dark but now it begins to rain, with terrible lightning and thunder. The water rises nearly drowning them. Exhausted they lay down and sleep but their troubles are not over. In the morning they are surprised and captured by the owner of the meadow, Giant Despair and taken to his dungeon in Doubting Castle.  As they lay in their prison cell, beaten and crushed in spirit, they live with the regret of choosing to climb over the wall and leaving the good path that they were told to follow.

We have been reviewing Psalm 1 by putting it on like a pair of glasses to see correctly the culture in which we live.  I have been doing this by giving you statements that summarize the main points of Psalm 1.

#1 you and I live in a moral world-right and wrong, good and bad, true and false.  Life is not relative to what I think is right and wrong. God’s Word tells us that there is absolute truth because God Himself is truth.

#2 you and I are under the influence of everything and everyone around us.  What we spend our time doing and what we allow ourselves to listen to will have a growing and progressive influence on our lives.  

#3 is You and I live in a world where our choices and behaviors come from a worldview.  A worldview is an idea of God and how He works in the world. If I choose my comfort over doing what God has called me to do, I live like a scoffer, a mocker of God.  Or if I choose to follow after God’s Word, then I will find my rest and satisfaction in Christ.

Statement #4 comes from verse 3-4,

He shall be like a tree

   Planted by the rivers of water,

   That brings forth its fruit in its season,

   Whose leaf also shall not wither;

And whatever he does shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so,

But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.

Here is statement #4: You and I live in a world where choices and behavior lead to real consequences in the real world.

It seemed like a small thing at first, but Christian the pilgrim’s disobedience and stepping over the God-given boundaries by climbing the wall, led to bondage and despair.  His journey would have ended in the Giant’s doubting castle if he did not remember the key of promise that he had with him the whole time. They seemed like just a few steps apart.  The path through by-path meadow and the good path but in the end, they ended up miles away from where God wanted them to be.

The apostle Paul in Galatians 6:7 says it this way,

whatever you plant, you harvest.  

Paul is using a seed to plant example.

Every spring farmers with their huge tractors would have 20-30 row planters with these seed hoppers systematically dropping seed into the ground.  You know what would happen every time they planted corn seed. Corn would grow. Not beans, not milo or wheat. Corn. Why? Because corn grows from corn seed. Beans grow from bean seed. Wheat grows from wheat seed. You don’t plant corn and get grapefruit.  This is a very simple lesson of nature but the same thing is true of your choices and actions. They will bear fruit according to its kind.

Here is the danger that we are all tempted with.  We do something wrong but don’t get caught we think we can get away with certain behaviors.  When we do that, we act as if God does not exist and His law found in the Bible doesn’t apply to us.  The teacher tells you to be quiet in the halls and you talk but don’t get caught. You are told to honor others and you push someone in recess and call someone a mean name in PE but the teacher doesn’t see it.  You need some money so you steal it from your parents but they don’t notice. They tell you to clean your room but you keep playing and they don’t say anything. You look at something on the computer or phone you know you should not, but don’t get caught. When you and I do these things, we are living as if God does not exist and what He said in the 10 commandments does not apply to us.  We think our behaviors do not matter, and if we are sneaky enough, we will not have consequences for our actions. Psalm 1 says not so fast.

You see you can’t violate and disobey again and again God’s law and then expect God’s blessing. You can’t treat people however you want and expect a loving relationship and close friends.  You can’t keep disobeying your parents and expect freedom and privileges. You can’t keep dishonoring others and expect people to trust you. You can’t climb over the walls of God’s boundaries looking for shortcuts and easier paths and not eventually get caught by the Giant Despair and thrown into a prison of doubting God’s promises.  It is the seed plant relationship. Corn seed grows corn plants. It is choices and consequences.

Even though I know this truth, I don’t always act as if my words and behaviors bear consequences.  Psalm 1 has a strong picture of when someone acts as if their behavior and choices do not have consequences.  Psalm 1 says they like chaff. Chaff is the light pieces of a head of grain, that come off when you break it apart and when you throw it in the air the wind blows it away.  How would you like to look at your life and think everything I have done so far in my life amounts to chaff? You see you can’t deny God’s existence, refuse to follow God’s law, and not be like the chaff.  It is a scary thought to think my life would end up like chaff.

The call in Psalm 1 is to be like a big, flourishing tree that sinks its roots into the nutrients of God’s Word.  Draws its life and energy from knowing and growing in love with the Bible. Believing that if God said don’t do this, I will not do it because I love Him.  I will follow God’s law of loving Him and loving my neighbor. I will serve others. I will obey. I will honor others above myself. My behaviors match a heart that runs after God and is rooted deeply in His Word.  A heart that cries:

I need Thee. O I need Thee. Every hour, I need Thee.

The Seven Deadly Sins Series with Rev. William “Geoff” Smith

The Bible says that a man who controls his temper is better than a man who can overthrow a city. Jesus himself says that anger can start a process in which an individual and the communities of which he is a part can devolve into the fires of hell. Paul says that unchecked anger gives a foothold to Satan. If anger is so dangerous and so difficult to overcome, what can we do about this powerful passion that dwells within us?

The Bible and the Christian tradition through the ages offer several solutions. We’ll start with tradition and end with Scripture. Thomas Aquinas makes the point that

one must distinguish between just and unjust anger.

Just anger is anger which desires to correct sin (whether personal or in others). Unjust anger is anger which wishes to harm others or get even. Knowing these distinctions can be very helpful, as we can ask, if we’re angry, “Do I wish to harm another or to correct sin? If I wish to harm, I should shut my mouth and not act right now. If I wish to correct a sin, I should measure my words to do exactly that and nothing more.” Another strategy, which Jesus recommends, is to take extreme ownership over your community, team, or family and if you are about to worship then remember that if you have wronged another, go reconcile immediately.

In other words, the Christian is a part of a kingdom whose citizens all take 100% ownership of their actions and therefore try to right whatever wrongs they have done.

A final strategy is one offered by Paul the Apostle. In Philippians 4:8-9, he recommends thinking of the best in others so that we might experience the peace of God in the midst of interpersonal conflict.

Coming up this week at SoLaR Chapel…”Pride!”

Eternity

Today we are going to talk about something that we don’t talk about a lot.  We certainly don’t talk about it enough and that is eternity.  Forever.  We use these words often in our daily living but we have reduced this amazing truth down to mean things it really doesn’t.  We may think chapel feels like an eternity.  A school weeks lasts forever.  Trust me.  Those things aren’t even close to forever.    

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Meditate

Who do you think talks to you the most?  Your teacher?  Your parents?  Your annoying brother or sister who won’t be quiet?  I think the answer may surprise you.  The person who talks to you the most is you.  No one talks to yourself more than you do.  It is helpful if you keep the conversation in your head and not talk to yourself out loud because people may think you’re a bit weird. God created you and me to try to make sense out of life.  We are constantly trying to figure out what in the world is going on and we do that by talking to ourselves.

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Siren’s Song

Last week we talked about how every thought, every word, and every deed is moving us in a direction. We are going somewhere. In Psalm 1, David says you will be blessed if you don’t go the way of the ungodly, the sinner, and the scornful. It starts with going for a walk, standing, and eventually sitting.  It never happens all at once.

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An Alternate Function for Technology

As “there are no small things”[1] we are told to “work heartily, as for the Lord” (Col. 3:23), something as simple as making your bed[2] can do wonders for your happiness and health, and carefulness is a virtue, according to Aristotle, then paying attention to details and concentrating on bettering seemingly unimportant small skills is important for the overall well-being, success, and fulfillment of a student.  Thus, the insistence when a teacher makes you put your heading in the correct corner with each piece of information, or makes you use graph paper for math, or makes you re-do an answer that she cannot read—are all examples of an effort to help a student realize the importance of being careful with details.

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The Games We Play

The sermon uses the metaphor of games for resource allocation and human cooperation to help understand the story of the creation of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis 2.  Students were challenged to ask themselves about the goals of the various games they play in life (family, school, religious, etc) and whether or not the strategies they employ will lead them to desirable outcomes.  The standard is God’s claim that the world is a better place with humanity than without it (Genesis 1:26-31). Are you handling your life in a way that allows you to assess it the way God originally assessed man’s presence in his creation?

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In Genesis, we see that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Part of what this means can be found in the way God creates. He first creates a formless mass of chaos (Genesis 1:2) and then progressively organizes the world after a fashion that makes it amenable to human beings and their experience of God’s presence. This is capitulated in the story of Eden (Genesis 2:7-15), where God creates a space for man to meet with God that is the ideal composition between chaos and order. If we see God’s creative work as a symbol of what it means to be a human being in God’s image, we can see that man is the being that negotiates between chaos and order on the earth. We do this by finding ways to cultivate nature in a way that brings something new out of it that was not there before without eliminating its potential entirely. A good example might be a garden in which there are no insects. Without bugs, the garden will produce no fruit. It is too orderly. But in a field without cultivation there may or may not be food fit for humans depending upon weather and animal activity. In connection with John 1:1-18 and Colossians 1:15-20, we can see that

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