What did Jesus talk about the most (and we rarely do)?

What do you think Jesus talked about more than anything else?

Money? The poor? Love? God’s judgement? Going to heaven? Getting saved?

Maybe he talked about going to church or reading the Bible or praying. Or maybe living right or serving. Those seem to be topics that Christians talk a lot about these days.

You might be surprised to know that Jesus talked about something called the kingdom of God more than anything else.

It was the topic of his first sermon (Mark 1:15). It was his last sermon too (Acts 1:3). He said the proclamation of the kingdom is why he came (Luke 4:43).

Jesus taught about the kingdom wherever he went. He described it using parables (Matthew 13, Mark 4.) He sent his disciples out to teach the kingdom too (Luke 10:9.)

Jesus was consumed with the kingdom and teaching his disciples to proclaim it to others. Yet, today, what are Christians talking about?

We find ourselves concerned about many things. Culture. Causes. Our churches. But where is the kingdom?

Jesus taught us to seek the kingdom first and everything else we worry about would take care of itself (Matthew 6:33.). But we seem to prefer worrying about the other things.

Why is that? Maybe we don’t understand the kingdom of God. Maybe we fear it (after all we can’t control it, market it, show it off to kingdom shoppers, buy it, program it, or package it.)

Maybe we are eager to build our own kingdoms too. Maybe our other concerns seem more relevant and pressing.

The fact that Jesus talked about the kingdom more than anything else should tell us something. The kingdom is vitally important.

It should also mean that to truly be like Jesus we talk about what he did too.

And more than talk, we must demonstrate it.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” I Corinthians 4:20

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What would you talk about if you were raised from the dead?

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3
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If you died and came back to life, what would you talk about?

No doubt such an experience would be ‘life changing’ and be a subject for discussion.

Would you describe what you saw? Would you talk of bright lights, voices, seeing people you knew? Would you write a book or make a movie?

Would you have a new sense of purpose and meaning? After all, you must have been brought back for a reason.

These would all be normal reactions to a rather unique experience. Chances are you would not act like it was expected and just continue on like you had been doing before death.

Hopping right back into work. Completing a task. Finishing a story you were telling prior to death.

Yet this seems to be just how Jesus reacted to his own resurrection.

The book of Acts tells the stories of Jesus’ followers after he left them. It tells of the beginning of the new Jesus Way movement.

But the book opens with a curious description of what Jesus was doing after his resurrection. Turns out he was not so amazed. He did not describe what he saw. He did not seek acclaim for having a supernatural experience.

Instead he seems to pick up just where he left off. He continues teaching his followers what he was teaching them prior to his crucifixion.

Jesus treats his own resurrection like it was expected, not a surprise. And it was expected. He predicted it.

He also sees no reason for it to change his focus of teaching people about the kingdom of God.

So for 40 days after his resurrection Jesus continues to teach what it looks like when God is the King of someone’s life and when God’s will is done on earth as in heaven.

And certainly raising His Son from the dead to defeat death and sin was central to God’s kingdom project in the first place.

While we are amazed at the supernatural and special experiences do alter our lives, for one who is focused on their purpose and knows God these events often only confirm what has always been true.

It is the kingdom that Jesus continued to proclaim after his resurrection. Its importance and arrival eclipsed what spectacular (to us) things Jesus might have seen while in the grave.

And so it is the kingdom that I will be blogging about over the next several weeks.

If Jesus spent 40 days talking about the kingdom to his disciples, hopefully I can discipline myself to write for 40 days about the topic that he spoke about the most throughout his life and ministry.

What does it look like when God is king of someone’s life and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven?

 

Dreams from Our Father

Dreams from Our FatherPeace on earth, good will toward men.”

“and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”      Luke 9:2

Everyone has a dream of a perfect world.

Some dreams come from culture.  Some dreams come from parents.

Christians also live with a dream.

And contrary to what it might seem, the dream is not for everyone to look the same, talk the same, vote the same way, go to church every Sunday and Wednesday, never see R movies, never cuss, or generally avoid fun altogether.

And the dream is not just about heaven, though it would seem that “going to heaven when you die” seems to be the main goal for many.

No this dream goes beyond behavior and where you would go if you died tonight, as important as both of these things are. This dream is about something much bigger and much more transformational.

The dream encompasses not just human behavior and individual destiny, but also creation and the remaking of all things.

In fact, what I am about to share might be surprising to some Christians themselves.

You see, we Christians have a secret which we either have forgotten or are unsure how to share.

The secret is a dream for the world and everyone in it.

Like so many, we want a world without hunger, disease, poverty, where people live generous lives, the environment is clean, and more. And you can find Christians working toward these goals all over the world. I can name many.

But we believe such a world can only come about ultimately by a power greater than us.

We dream of a world set right by God, not by us. We dream of a world where the real flaw behind all the problems we see is solved. We dream of a world where God is King and makes all things new.

“the gospel, in the New Testament, is the good news that God (the world’s creator) is at last becoming king and that Jesus, whom this God raised from the dead, is the world’s true lord.” NT Wright, Surprised by Hope

This is a dream not from us (as if we could imagine a truly perfect world) but given by God through Jesus.

As Christians we seek and work for a world that Jesus wanted – a world where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. And if God’s will is done on earth as in heaven, that means that God is the ultimate authority.

But what does this look like?

Aha.  We look to Jesus.

Jesus spoke about a world where God is King more than anything else. He taught and modeled what life is like when love of God and others is at the center, where God rather than self is ruling. In short, Jesus taught us about life in the kingdom of God.  And through his death and resurrection, by the defeat of death, Jesus launched this kingdom!

But our problem is we have made ourselves king and put our hope in kings. And this has affected everything.

 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:13

All along, though, we were meant for another kingdom, which is why we want to change things in the first place!

Sadly, the dream of God being King, of His will on earth as in heaven, gets lost in smaller dreams of growing churches, shallow moralism, individualism, and disembodied “life after death” where all you have to do is say a particular prayer and you are good to go.

To recapture the dream, we ask ourselves, what kind of world does God want? Not just what we want, which can be fickle and ill informed at best.

We have been given a dream from our Father to come home to Him, repent and put Him back as the ruler of our lives and this world. And as we work to relieve the suffering we see, as we seek to embody His will on earth as in heaven, we are actually living the dream He has given us!

So forgive us if we give you only part of the story, if we only tell you what to say to avoid hell or just get you busy doing stuff.

The real hope we want you to know is a world made new (and you made new) by God through Jesus.   And this hope is made possible not by new rules, regulations, or religions, but only by what God has done in Christ.  One day the work He began in Christ will be completed.  All things will be new.

For this is the message our Father whispers in any ear willing to hear and boldly proclaims in Christ for any eyes willing to see.  This is the dream from our Father.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21

The Impact of 11 Years

2003.

Mack teaching on a river bank in rural Liberia.

Mack teaching on a river bank in rural Liberia.

Back then, there were no iphones, tablets (except the Tylenol, stone or paper kind), or apps.  Arnold Schwarzenegger became a Governor, the office of Homeland Security started operations, and Saddam Hussein was captured.

Also, in 2003, a Pastor was selected to lead a growing congregation in Dunwoody, Ga.

It would not be an easy task.  The church needed someone who could bring unity.  The people worshipped separately and the schedule meant that the older generation and the younger never really saw each other.  There was a clear division.

The church needed a leader who was a servant.   At the time, churches were looking around for the latest and greatest, the coolest and the trendiest.  Leaders attended conferences on how the “megas” did what they did.  People were leaving churches to go to the “more relevant” one up the road.

So the church needed a leader who would simply serve the people as they were and point them back to Jesus when they began to look over their shoulders at who was drawing the biggest crowds.

Finally, the church needed someone who could model what it means to love the community.  People were steadily taking notice of the problems in the “attractional” model of church and the word “missional” was starting to become en vogue.

So, this church needed a pastor who could show the congregation and tell stories of how he himself was loving his neighbors and sharing the good news outside the walls.  “We have no right to expect the community to come to us,” he would say.  “But the community has every right to expect us to go to them!”

The church needed these things not because prior pastors had done anything wrong or left the church lacking.  A need in one phase of life does not negate the progress made in prior ones.  The church had a legacy of incredible spiritual leadership.  It’s just at this time in its history, these are the things it needed.

Enter Mack Hannah, a guy who would tell you he did not think himself a great preacher or administrator (the two things churches most often ask of their pastors!).  But, he could love people, teach Scripture, and share the good news.  That was enough.

So for eleven years Mack served Dunwoody Baptist as its Senior Pastor.  This past Sunday we celebrated his tenure with stories, laughter, and worship.  It was an amazing and moving evening.

We’ve come a long way in eleven years.  We are more unified.  One of the first things he did was  to change the schedule and expand our education space so that the generations could see each other and connect.  He squashed any talk of division based on what people preferred and rather pointed us to unity as the body of Christ. We serve each other better.

We’re not concerned about our growth like we were in years past.  We’re not concerned about what the cool church up the road is doing or losing members to the local ‘mega.’  Mack taught us to celebrate when people find a church family, whether at DBC or someplace else.

Eleven years later, we are a stronger church, more loving, more connected, more full of grace.  Our staff is no longer silo-ed off, each doing its own thing.  We are a team.  As a church, we are more sure of our identity and who we are in Christ. “We are better together,” as Mack would say.

And finally, we are a church more focused on our community and what we can do to serve here.  We talk often about loving our neighbors.  We’ve always been “mission minded”, but now we are more “mission active” with people engaging in ministry to their neighbors, schools, businesses, and people groups all over the world!

What a church needed eleven years ago, the Lord provided.  It has not always been easy.  There have been tough decisions and we’ve said “see you later” to some beloved saints.  There have been difficult diagnoses and uncertain days.

But through it all the consistency of Christ who is the “same yesterday, today and forever” showed through in a Pastor who simply loved people and loved his Lord.  “Just do the next right thing,” was his motto.

And in an age when people want to be “liked,” “re-tweeted” and “followed,” it is those who consistently, day in and day out, quietly and sincerely love Jesus and those around them who will ultimately have the deepest influence.  It has always been that way really.

Much more could be said.  I’ve known Mack for 30 years!  I’ve served with him for eleven.  I was at Dunwoody Baptist before he arrived and can safely say we are more Christ centered, more unified, more outwardly focused than we were.

And even though he is retired from “professional” ministry, the impact of these past eleven years will  ripple on for generations.

To God be the glory.

“Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”- CT Studd

Why do we eat ham to celebrate the resurrection of a Jewish Rabbi?

Religious traditions sometimes don’t make much sense.

Take the fact that many people eat ham on Easter.

Ham?  Why do we eat pork to celebrate the resurrection of a Jewish Rabbi?

If there is one thing we can know, as a Rabbi Jesus never ate pork, certainly not at Passover.

Now not all Christians eat ham at Easter.  Many actually eat lamb, which symbolizes Christ as the Passover lamb whose sacrifice covers our sins. (Exodus 12:21; Mark 14:12)

But, why pig?  As yummy as ham can be, the origins for eating it are both practical and pagan.

I’ve scoured the interweb and here are some reasons we eat ham at Easter:

1.  Ham is awesome and since closely related to bacon, good anytime for any reason!

2.  In Northern Europe back in the day, pigs were slaughtered in the winter, salted and smoked, and ready to eat in the spring.  Pig was a more common meat than lamb.  So when those ham eating Northern Europeans immigrated to the USA they passed on their delicious traditions to us.

3.   The pig was a symbol of good luck.  (Hence piggy banks!  Porky Pig is more funny than lucky.) 

4.  A lot of websites connect the eating of ham with the worship of Tammuz, an ancient Babylonian deity pig hunter said to have been killed by a wild pig and so pig is eaten as some sort of revenge.  But, on all those sites I did not find one source referenced for this assertion nor a connection to the actual Christian practices celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.  Tammuz is, however, mentioned in the Bible in Ezekiel 8: 14 – 15.

So there you have it.  We eat ham because of various traditions than have long since been forgotten by most people and no longer connected to the meat on our modern tables.

(My guess is that pigs wonder why we eat ham much more than we wonder about it.)

The question remains, however, do origins for traditions matter?  If so, how much and why?   Or are they irrelevant if not recognized in modern practice?