Kingdom Citizens

by David Edgren

Sometimes, right is wrong.

When I first came to Australia, more than two decades ago, I discovered this the hard way.

22 years of age, I arrived in Australia to volunteer at Lilydale Adventist Academy (LAA) in Melbourne as the boys' assistant dean. When I walked out of the airport, following my boss Mr Joey to his car, I noticed something. The steering wheel was on the wrong side of the vehicle. I sat where the wheel was, yesterday, and watched in terror as my driver left the parking garage.

And as we drove, we used the wrong side of the road. It was terrifying! The road came at us in all kinds of weird ways. Intersections were particularly overwhelming. Cars emerged from places where they shouldn’t be and drove, turning in ways that befuddled my visual cortex. Then came my first roundabout. Luckily, it was huge and made sense. Nearly an hour later, we drove through a town named Mooroolbark and I experienced a triple roundabout. By the time we arrived at LAA I was a mess. I exited the car, vowing never to enter another vehicle until I left the country a year later.

Then, Mr Joey pointed to a small car – a green Sigma – and said, “That car’s been donated for you to use while you’re here!”

“You have got to be kidding!” I said.

“You said you have an international drivers licence.” Mr Joey said, “Right?”

I laughed. “It’s just a piece of paper. I’m sure the DMV in California had no idea what they were getting me into!”

After settling into my routine, early one Sunday morning I decided to give the Sigma a test drive. I got in on the wrong side and sat behind the wheel. I started the car and drove it gingerly around the roads at the school. I was amazed how quickly I got used to it.

So, I took her out on the main road. Ater driving for a few minutes, I noticed blinking red and blue lights in my mirrors. That I recognised! I pulled the car over and took out my California drivers licence, my passport and my international drivers permit.

The officer leaned down to Sigma level and said, “What do you think you’re doing?”

I handed him the three documents and said, proudly, “Driving, sir.”

“I followed you for quite some time.” he said, “You are lucky it’s early.”

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“There are no other cars on the road.” The officer continued, “What would you have done if someone came toward you?”

“Go around, I guess.”

Now looking at my licence, the officer asked a new question – one he hadn’t considered previously, “You do realise you were driving on the wrong side of the road, don’t you?”

I laughed. “Not really.”

“Yes, really!” The officer was getting upset, “Young man, are you fit to drive?”

“I was on the right side, not the wrong side!”

Taking his sunglasses off, the officer stared. “Is this a joke to you?”

“Officer, I am American. We drive on the right side of the road.” I paused, considering my words, “Look, if my nationality offends you, I’m sorry. I can’t just change who I am!”

“If you’re going to stay alive in Australia,” he said, “you’ll have to learn to follow the Australian road rules.”*

Sometimes, right is wrong.


Kingdom Living

As believers, we are Citizens of God’s Kingdom. We have been given Eternal principals and universal laws that God designed us to obey. But what are we to do with the laws of the land in which we live?

We have a King greater than any king on this earth. And God's Kingdom has a greater more perfect law than any nation on Earth. On our passports, it says Citizen of God’s Kingdom. But the most recent stamp inside says, “Earth, Kingdom of Man.”

So how are we to live in the “now and not yet” of waiting for Jesus to return? Are we meant to run to the hills and hide? Are we meant to embed ourselves into a sinful suburb and hide? Or are we meant to do something else?


Conforming to the World

In Romans 12:2 Paul says we should “not conform to the pattern of this world”** but then in next chapter, he says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) and “pay taxes” (Romans 13:6). In fact, he says that “whoever rebels against the authority [local government] is rebelling against … God” (Romans 13:2).

So, as a day to day habit, we are to abide by the laws of the land. We comply with the leaders of the land because we respect God. But, what about not conforming to the world? Where’s the line? Is there one?

Paul continues in the next chapter with ever harder teachings about going along to get along. This time he writes about our faith. Seemingly in contradiction with Romans 12:1 where he encourages a thoughtful lifestyle, saying we are to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice”, Paul says we should accept believers “without quarrelling over disputable matters” (Romans 14:1) and that we “must not judge” believers who think differently to us because “God has accepted them” (Romans 14:3).

So, as a moment by moment habit, we are to accept and include fellow Christians who worship differently, eat differently and act differently to us. What about the “true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1) of pure living?

How far are we supposed to conform to society? What if the law of the land requires you to pay taxes and then uses those taxes to run schools that teach things you don’t agree with? What if you are required to work or take an exam on Sabbath? What if your politicians are not kind? We’ve all drawn lines in the past. But, in Paul’s theology, where is the line in the sand between God’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of the world?

How accepting are we to be of other believers? What if they are driving on the wrong side of the road? What if their theology is so narrow it barely seems to allow even a pinpoint of God’s Love to shine through? What if they are so open they seem to have no boundaries at all?

On the last day before Christmas break, a Fijian-Indian dad of one the students stopped by my office. We have had many conversations in the past. After a few end-of-year pleasantries, I asked, “Do you have a faith background?”

He replied that yes, he and his family were Hindu.

“What holiday do you celebrate at the end of the year?”

“Christmas!” he laughed. “We do Easter, too!”

I joined in the laughter. “What about your Hindu tradition, is there a celebration for the year ending and a new year beginning?”

“We have the Festival of Lights, Diwali.” He said, “But, Hindu’s have many gods and happily participate in all faith celebrations!”

Is this what Paul is talking about? Just accept every celebration and join in?


Life & Death and Love

Paul concludes these seemingly warring thoughts by saying, “none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:7-9).

So, therein lies the difference. It’s life and death. The line in the sand is Love. What do you live for? Are you willing to die for it? Where do you place your greatest love? There is only one thing you can live for, die for and live for again. One.

In false religions, the worshippers worship dead gods. There is no life in them because they are made of wood and stone. And the god’s they represent are not gods at all but merely figments or ideas.  You could live for them. Many have. You could die for them. But why? Your life and death would be in vain.

Living in earthly kingdoms as we do, we follow dying leaders. It is, of course, possible for leaders to be followers of Jesus. But, their kingdoms are built on sand. It is a natural law on sinful Earth that death is coming. Every kingdom, just like it’s human leaders, is born and dies.

There is only one Kingdom worth living and dying for. God's Kingdom is the one thing for which you can live, die and live again. Life, death and resurrection. God’s Kingdom where love rules and life eternal awaits. We worship the living God and we live for His eternal Kingdom.

Christ died and returned to life – why? So he might be Lord of both the dead and living.
Are you caught in a dead religion? Jesus died to save you from death. Follow the living God!
Are you investing your life and wealth in a dying kingdom? Jesus died to save you from death. Follow Him into life everlasting!

Jesus is Lord of both the dead and the living. The only line He draws is love. He draws us toward Himself with Love. His life, death and resurrection provide the way out of all kinds of death. Jesus said He came so humanity “may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10).


God’s Love

Imagine a pyramid that represents all of Creation. Where is God in the pyramid?

It is natural in human thinking to put God at the apex – the point at the top of the pyramid. But this is not how God thinks. Some theologians have talked about Jesus being the bringer of the “upside down kingdom” and for good reason.

Jesus revealed God’s nature. Jesus said, “The one who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). As the fullest expression of God to ever visit sinful humanity, Jesus showed through his birth, life and death that God is the bottom of the pyramid.  “God is Love” (1 John 4:16) and that Love is the foundation of Creation - God is the entire foundation of the Pyramid, the base on which all else rests. Love is humble. Love is foundational. It’s something you build on. Jesus came to Earth, lived and died as one of us – that’s how God began His upside-down Kingdom.

We are Citizens of that Kingdom. God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom built on Love.

What does the life of a Citizen of God’s Kingdom look while awaiting Jesus’ return?


God’s Community

Most of the Bible talks about how we are to live now. It’s full of illustrations, real-life examples and occasional value-statements. Built on God’s Love and His desire to be known through our love, some of the rules are downright backward to sinful human eyes.

“Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). No revenge. No hard feelings. Love others as much as you love yourself. This was written when God’s people were still very young. Over a thousand years before Jesus walked the earth.

When He did come, Jesus summed up the entire Bible – all the stories, examples and rules – with one statement. Known both inside and outside the church as the golden rule, Jesus said, “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them” (Matthew 7:12).

In considering what impact God’s Citizens should be having, Paul said,“If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12:20).

What would it look like if an entire people of God, lived this way?


Feed Your Enemy

A story is told in 2 Kings 6 of the prophet Elisha ending a war with food.

The enemy king from the country of Aram would tell his generals to send raiding parties to Israelite land. When they arrived there were smouldering campfires but no people. Over and over this happened.

Frustrated, the king of Aram demanded his generals tell him which one of them was the traitor. Someone was clearly relaying his commands to the Israelites, thus protecting them. A general said, “Elisha, the prophet in Israel, tells the king of Israel even the words you speak in your bedroom” (2 Kings 6:12).

The king sent a large army to capture Elisha. I wonder if he considered the likelihood of Elisha knowing this move as well and escaping. But, Elisha stayed put. And for good reason. He was about to teach everyone how God's Kingdom works.

The next morning, the servant of Elisha was terrified when he saw a huge army of solidiers, horses and chariots surrounding the city. Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid, for those who are with us outnumber those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). Then the prophet prayed that his servant be able to see the armies of God.

Surrounding the armies of Aram, the servant now saw a vast army of fire – fiery soldiers, horses and chariots – beyond them, covering the mountains. Elisha then prayed that the armies of Aram be blind to his identity. He walked out through the gates, found the captain of the armies of Aram, and led them to Samaria – the capital of Israel.

Once the army of Aram was completely surrounded and captured within the walls of Samaria, Elisha prayed again – this time that they might see the truth of their situation. They were surrounded. Defeated. It would have been the expectation of every man – in both armies – that a slaughter would follow.

Instead, Elisha told the King of Isreal to feed the armies of Aram and send them home. Which, begrudgingly, Israel's king did.

When the soldiers of Aram arrived home, alive but without the prophet Elisha, they explained the situation to their King. The story finishes by recording, “The Aramean raiders did not come into Israel’s land again” (2 Kings 6:23).

By feeding their enemies, Israel had enacted a law of the desert that is still followed in the Middle East today, “If you feed me, I will feed you. If you shelter me, I will shelter you.”

In one simple act of mercy - one meal - God’s Kingdom overcame an entire kingdom of this world. This is what it looks like when we do to others what we wish they would do to us. (see Matthew 7:12). We can bring peace to our relationships, our families and the world by feeding our enemies as well. It’s a peace strategy from the Kingdom of God, one we can practice today!


Kingdom Come

In the final book of the Bible, another prophet says the kingdom of this world will become the Kingdom of God. When this happens, it will be global.

 The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom
of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)

While we do not know when this wonderful event will take place, we can begin living by the values of God’s Kingdom now. The moment you realise your sins are forgiven by the gracious blood of Jesus, you received your Kingdom Passport. You’re a citizen of God’s eternal Kingdom – starting NOW!


Faith vs work

Do you follow God’s rules to guarantee you allowed entrance into God’s Kingdom?
       or
Do you follow God’s rules because you are guaranteed entrance into God’s Kingdom?

When faced with this question, nearly every Christian will agree that option two – the gift option – is the right one. But, many people feel threatened by the word “obedience” and some are plagued by guilt because they still think sinful thoughts.

How do you know which way you are living?

In a youth Bible study at Ringwood Adventist Church, they young people passionately debated the difference between a life of works and a life of grace. How do you know if you have grasped the grace of Jesus or if you are trying to earn your way to Heaven by obedience?

As we concluded, I asked them to consider one question: “When you’ve broken His holy law and offended His holy name; when you sin, do you run toward God or do you run away from God?”

Those who know Christ’s love run to Him for forgiveness. Those trusting their own strength, run away.

The God of grace, forgives. The person of grace, repents! When we sin, we run to Jesus, kneel at His feet and confess our sin. Why? Because, God is love; and forgiveness for sin is available only through His Son, Jesus Christ!


Conclusion

As citizens of God’s Kingdom, Jesus' followers embody God’s Eternal principal of Love. Love calls us to obey because obedience increases the Kingdom in us and through us. There is no king like King Jesus. While we wait for His return, He offers an eternal purpose for our lives – living in His love as beacons of hope to the dying world around us. His perfect nature fuels our lives. We live and love, giving glimpses of God’s Kingdom.

We are citizens of God’s Kingdom. But, we do not live there, yet. We live here. This land has rules. This world has laws. In Australia, we need to drive on the left side of the road!

Filled with God's love, as Kingdom citizens, we go where God wants us to go. We become, who He wants us to become. We live in hope of the world to come. Living in this world as Citizens of God’s Kingdom is nothing compared to what it will be like to live in God's fully realised Kingdom.

For now, we are residents here but citizens there. Some of us feel like exiles. Some like missionaries. All of us ache for the day Jesus returns in Glory and establishes His Kingdom once and for all. Until that day, we pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!

-x-x-x-x-x-

This was Prepared for Ringwood Adventist Church combined Sabbath School, Dec 30 2017

* While learning to drive in Australia was difficult and on occasion, I did find myself on the wrong side of the road, I was not stopped by a police officer because of it. I was however, once pulled over and cited for ‘limb protruding from vehicle’ – another story for another time! 

** All texts quoted in this post are from the HCSB. 

God's Storytelling People

Story is the bedrock of the Bible.

It doesn’t matter where you start. Turn to the beginning and you’re faced with two stories of Creation. Turn to the end and you see a seven-headed dragon spewing a tsunami in the desert. Pick a random spot in the middle and you’ll find Nathan wielding the sword of story to smite King David’s soul with self-incriminating judgement, Daniel recounting mirrored dreams of a multi-storied statue to a stressed-out king, a cupbearer explaining to Pharaoh that he knows precisely where to find the man who can interpret dreams, Paul calling himself a fool as he recounts the long list of abuse received by himself for the Gospel, Peter saying silver and gold are out of his reach but the story he has is worth much more, or any number of stories told by Jesus causing one disciple to write, “He said nothing without telling a story.”

Why all the stories?

Let’s imagine, for a moment, the God of the universe loved a little blue-green orb and its sinful inhabitants so much He decided to send His Son there on a rescue mission. They plan the rescue mission in detail. When His Son sets foot, in the flesh, on terra firma the plan is perfect. His approach, His delivery, His every act intentionally communicates in ways these creatures understand perfectly. To be understood is His greatest wish.

God sent His Son telling stories. Sent to reveal the character of God, Jesus brought Love to the world and in so doing saved them from the sin which bound them. Story after story, Jesus laid out the nature of God, mankind, Sabbath, law, love, obedience and more. Ultimately – through His life, death and resurrection – Jesus bridged the chaos between creature and Creator – restoring us by restorying us.

Then, promising us greater power than He displayed, Jesus handed the story to you and I before heading back to His Father. We are only disciples when we are disciple-makers. And we are only disciple-makers when we tell the story. God’s story is told when we feed the poor, when we care for the sick, when we embrace the lonely. We tell the story of God’s Love when we act within His character – communicating to be understood. We are effective as preachers, teachers, parents and parishioners when we care enough to connect people, in ways they understand, to the God who loves them – first by meeting their needs, then by restorying their lives.

The Great Commission is the mission statement of God’s storytellers – His disciple-making manifesto. We grow the Kingdom of God when we restore and restory lives. Bringing people into the Kingdom, baptizing them into God’s story and teaching them to seek to be understood - we send these disciples out with a story worth hearing.

Kurios Christmas



Free eBook


2017 Christmas Sermon
by David Edgren
(all Bible texts are from the HCSB)

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

Introduction

Have you ever had a road trip that couldn’t get any worse – and then it does? 

Mary’s last week of pregnancy was that road trip. 

“You want me to go where, Joseph? Bethlehem? I can barely walk!” 
“A donkey? Are you serious? Can’t you go alone? I’ll be fine here. Mum will help.”
“No? As your wife, I’m ‘required’ to go with you. ‘REQUIRED!?!’ You asked for it!”

You remember the stories you parents told about your childhood? There were those one or two punchlines that Dad liked to tell and so the whole story got told – over and over. Perhaps your life didn’t have the best start. Perhaps your story isn’t all roses. Jesus knows how you feel. His is one of those stories.

And so, the journey began. Then came the condescending looks from fellow travellers making their way to Bethlehem.
And the overheard comments: “You know they’ve only been married a couple of months.” 
“But, she’s ready to pop.” 
“Exxxxaccctttly…”

Imagine hearing THAT story repeated constantly through your childhood. “You know his Mum and Dad weren’t married…” In their day, that was a reputation killer. It still is in some places, today. Perhaps it’s a different story about your Mum or Dad that you heard over and over from people who didn’t realise – or didn’t care – how much it hurt you. Know this: you are not alone. Jesus would have seen his mother come through the door crying more times than he could count. Jesus would have heard his dad defend his mother’s honour a thousand times: “It’s not like that!” 
Jesus has one of those stories, too. 

Can you imagine, as Jesus grew up and began developing his amazing way with words. When accusers hit him with their hurtful words, he quieted them with his gentle reply: “Let me tell you about my Mum. Let me tell you why I love her, so much!”

Back on the Road to Bethlehem, Mary sits side-saddle on the donkey. “Are we there yet?”

“Yes, dear. Those are the gates of Bethlehem.”

“Joseph, I am not kidding when I tell you this child is on his way into the world! I have got to get off this donkey! Find a room! Find a midwife!”

Then the search begins. Everywhere is full. Finally, a barn is found. A bed of straw is made. A blanket is placed on the pile of straw. Joseph is shooo-ed out of the barn by an unnamed and unremembered midwife. Culturally, there had to be one. 

Joseph steps outside the barn and listens through the door. He waits. And waits. Finally, the baby’s cry comes, followed by: “It’s a boy!” 

“Of course, it’s a boy!” Joseph says as he rushes back to his wife’s side.

Tightly, Baby Jesus is wrapped in swaddling rags – a sure sign there was someone there who knew what they were doing. Following a quick bath and salt rub, Jewish babies were swaddled – using many strips of cloth newborn babies was bound snugly. 

Then, the swaddled baby Jesus was laid in a feeding trough. 

You can hear Mary, can’t you? “A feeding trough? Really? But, he’s a special child!”

“Of course, he is,” the midwife says as she lays Jesus on the hay. “Aren’t they all?” Gently she touches the sleeping Jesus’ cheek, “Aren’t they all!” She coos before leaving the tired couple. 

Mary looks at Joseph, “A feeding trough, Joseph? It’s like adding insult to injury.” 

“It’ll do, love.” Joseph says, wiping the sweat from Mary’s forehead. “Rest now.”


Bible Study

Luke 2:1-5   In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. 2 This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.  3 So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town.  And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, 4 which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, 5 to be registered along with Mary, who was •engaged to him and was pregnant. 

The fact that Mary travelled with Joseph indicates that they were now married, but the description of her as pledged to be married shows that they had not yet consummated the marriage.

Luke 2: 6-7   While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough—because there was no room for them at the lodging place.

The phrase “in a feeding trough” is repeated three times in this short story. There is no doubt Luke wants us to feel the incongruity of the Son of God laying in a manger – in a feeding trough. 
Is this the place for a “Savior”? 
Is this the place for a “Messiah”?
Is this the place for a “Lord”? 
The implied answer is ‘no’. 

And thus begins the life of Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us – born in a manger and then living a perfect life on Earth to prove the answer is, actually, yes. Yes, God always stoops when He enters. He always humbles Himself. His love compels Him to do so. And He would have it no other way. 

Luke 2:8   In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. 

Shepherds. When I was in Maasai-land in Kenya last January, I noticed something about shepherds. They are not old men. They are children. Boys like David with his sling and stick scaring lions and bears. Shepherds are brave because they’re boys! Maasai boys are shepherding the livestock as soon as they can walk. So, when angels arrived and sang to Shepherds, there’s every chance the audience was filled with boys. 

It fits the character of God to tell children first. 

In the fields, as shepherds watch their sheep by night, it’s time for a bedtime story: “You know the story you’ve been told about the promised Messiah?” The Angel of the Lord says, “It’s true! He’s here! In Bethlehem. In a feeding trough!”

It fits the character of children to believe – to believe a four-thousand-year-old story has come true, tonight. 

Like the children I talk to every day at school, these shepherds were thrilled the Christmas story was true. They ran to find the present wrapped-up and laying in a manger. In a feeding trough. 

Thirty-some years later, Jesus would reflect on this moment when he said, “To enter the Kingdom of God, you must be like one of these little children.” It fits the character of children to find Jesus first. 

Luke 2:9-12   Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”

LORD – in Greek, the word “Kurios” – is used in two ways. Secular masters and kings were called “Lord” and the Jews called their God “Lord” to avoid saying or writing His name. For the average listener, Luke is telling the story of a new king being born. A new ‘my Lord’ to curtsy and doff your hat toward. To the Jewish listener, this was subversive code for a God-King – a new king in the line of David. A king sent to set things right and set God’s people free from Roman oppression. Look how many times “Lord” is repeated, like a swelling theme in a musical. vs 9, vs 11, vs 15. 

In verse 11 Messiah the Lord – in Greek, “Christos Kurios” – is actually Messiah Lord. This is the only place in New Testament these two words are next to each other. Everywhere else the word “kai” (and) is between them. Messiah and Lord. But here, it’s a title. It’s the punchline for listening ears: “The Lord Messiah” is here, born – on the scene. Get ready for rescue!

Luke 2:13-14   Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
    Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to people He favours!

Roman Peace was Ceasar Augustus’ promise to the people he ruled. “Pay your taxes, live peacefully and my soldiers will provide peace and security – Pax Romana – Peace, Roman style. The angels announced global peace – “peace on Earth.” Not Pax Romana but eternal peace for the entire Earth. God's promised Kingdom brought not Roman peace but universal peace. And this peace will pass all understanding. This peace – God’s peace from the highest heaven – will cover the Earth, blessing God’s beloved people, far and wide.

Luke 2:15-18   When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the feeding trough. 17 After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

The Shepherds. They came in faith and they left in joy. Their message was encouraging and left smiles on every face around the room. Their excitement was infectious. Everyone was amazed by their story of angels singing about this little baby boy – The Messiah Lord. Much like children today, they were passionate and unfazed by what anyone else thought. They just said it like it was. They told the truth, the whole truth and then bounced back out to the fields. I’m guessing they didn’t even ask anyone to watch the sheep while they were gone. “God told us to go find the child. He’s not going to let anything happen to our sheep while we’re gone, right?!”

Luke 2:19-20   But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.


Conclusion 

Mary treasured these things in her heart. … What things?

All the same things that were dogging her for the past nine months and coming to a massive peak in the past week. All the things that stressed Mary that morning she was now collecting like treasures. These weren’t the wisemen's treasures – those would come later. These were shepherds’ treasures. Childlike Faith. Boldness. Excitement. A story believed. A Saviour received. A Messiah recognised. The Lord Messiah, baby Jesus.

I can hear the shepherds. If you listen, you can too.
The angels told us, “Don’t be afraid” – God has a plan.
The angels told us, “Good News” – A Saviour is born. 
The angels told us, “Great Joy” – The Lord Messiah is here!
The angels told us, “Here’s a sign: You will find the Messiah King lying in a feeding trough! And there he is!”

Mary treasured these things in her heart and meditated on them. 

The Son of God being born looked very different than any worldly King being born. A human king Lords it over his people. A God King – Jesus the Saviour Messiah – is Lord with His people. The feeding trough wasn’t unfamiliar to Him. God always humbles Himself to meet us where we are. God sent His Son not to impress us but to embrace us – to become one with us. Jesus came to show God’s love not His power. God is Love. The feeding trough that so mystified Mary reminds each of us that when God shows up in our lives it will be in common everyday ways. Jesus’ family story is like my story and your story. 

Mary treasured these things in her heart and meditated on them. 

As she reflected on her pregnancy and all it’s troubles, Mary realised that God can bring glory out of chaos. When she looked back over the past week – the donkey ride, the barn birth, the feeding trough – Mary recognised God’s fingerprints. God’s love brings His people through life’s greatest troubles. 
As you and I review our lives, we too have the opportunity to see God’s fingerprints. As we reflect on stress that seemed impossible at the time, looking back we see signs and wonders. Signs of God’s presence. Signs that suffering leads to Glory. Even in a feeding trough.

Mary treasured these things in her heart and meditated on them. 

Now it’s your turn.

Laws, Limits and Lessons

Without boundaries life is less fun and often dangerous. Laws provide boundaries in society. We’ve all driven through an intersection when the traffic lights weren’t working. Everyone is on high alert and proceeds with extreme caution. But what if there were no traffic lights, no speed limits and we could drive on whichever side of the road we chose? Sounds like fun to some of us. But in reality, none of us would use the roads for fear of death. The boundaries provided by everyone respecting and obeying road rules allow each of us to regularly get to our destinations safely.

Healthy families have boundaries, too. Families benefit from clear laws and limits in how we treat each other, respect our property, perform our daily routines and cooperate to get things done. Expecting others to be or do things without establishing laws and limits will lead to frustration and disappointment.

Just as drivers study the road rules, we must learn the laws and limits of our family. And to respect our boundaries, we first need to decide what a safe home looks like and then write laws and limits to create that home. Post them somewhere everyone is likely to see them. The fridge is a good place.

Just like riding in the car with a learner – we parents need to be in teaching mode and expect mistakes from our children. These broken laws and exceeded limits provide opportunities for lessons that can be told again later. We learn through trial and error. When a learner breaks a road rule the adult in the car is responsible – we get the ticket, the fine and the points. Parents who take this approach to raising children create safe environments for learning.

Every story we tell teaches a lesson to those around us. Our words reveal our focus, our purpose and what is important to us. You don’t tell stories about things that bore you. Whether it bothered you or bettered you, the stories you tell teach lessons to those around you.

So, write your family laws, set your family limits and teach your family lessons through the stories you tell about those laws and limits – when they were helpful and when they were difficult. The boundaries we set create the people we become!

Faith vs Works

The battle between Faith and Works – our understanding of our involvement and God's involvement in our lives, our natures and the nature of life – is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of God.

God is always Love. He is always good. Anytime we see Him seem to stray (both Biblically and personally) from loving kindness - it is an accommodation He is making to us, our will, our expectations of Him or the world around us. God is the master of becoming small enough to be big enough for each of us at every moment of our lives.

In short – when it comes to Salvation – God does everything. Or, more accurately, He did everything. God became one of us, in the flesh, by sending His Son Jesus to live, die and re-live. The incarnation is the penultimate accommodation. His death, at our hands, brought on the ultimate accommodation – God turned his face away from Himself – try to fathom that! Like the temple curtain tearing in two, God’s heart was cleft in two – from top to bottom, from Highest Heaven to Deepest Death.

This is His Love. This is our Salvation. Anything we do in return is but a meagre response. 

The Gift of Prophecy

Every parent has the gift of prophecy.
Every “you are” statement made by a parent
becomes an “I am” statement within a child.
You are such a… becomes “I am a…”

Your parental prophetic power is potent.

Identify strength not weakness.
Profess blessings not curses.

Every parent is word-shaping.
Every child word-formed.

Parent, prophesy.

Pneumatics: People of the Spirit


A line of thought for today's lesson:
"Spirit People"

Read Gal 6:1-5

Teaching Point: "you who are spiritual" is the word "Pneumatics" in the Greek. It's more of a title than a description.

Q. Who is most of this passage focusing upon: The fallen one or the reconcilers? (reconcilers) Why? (get opinions)

Q. What are the directives given to reconcilers? Why?

Q. Who are the Pneumatics: the fallen or the reconcilers? (both, this is a model for reconciling a fallen brother/sister - a fellow pneumatic).

Q. Vs 1 finishes with two maxims: "Watch Yourself" / "Don't you be tempted" - Paul switches, mid verse from plural (brothers) to singular (yourself). Why?

Q. How does a "Spirit Person" (Pneumatic) spend their days on Earth? Why? (reflecting and reducing my pride to help others follow Christ - and expecting help from fellow "pneumatics" when I fall to temptation.)

Q. What is the benefit of carrying each others burden? (lifts the struggler, humbles the helper - it levels the field)

Q. In this passage, what seems to be more dangerous in the church: a fallen Pneumatic or a prideful Pneumatic? How so?

Q. As a pneumatic, how does this passage direct your focus for today and tomorrow? How does it give you encouragement?




Illustration: A Humble Church
While this is a different form of reconciliation (public repentance of a group to the greater body of believers) it speaks volumes of the kind of church we become as we put Christ first, fellow pneumatics second and self third.

https://record.adventistchurch.com/2017/09/21/griffith-church-apologises-publicly-at-conference-session/

Dare to be a Disciple

Let’s put Christianity aside for a minute. Christianity today is a worldview, a way of thinking socially, politically, religiously and personally. It is an organised form of group think – based on agreed upon (often localised) interpretations of scripture and tradition – which manages behaviour through inclusion and exclusion. That’s not what I want to talk about, so let’s put it aside and look at Jesus.

Jesus called his followers disciples. So, in this short treatment, we will call them the same.

Jesus, for those who follow him, is the central figure in history – both universally and personally. As he walked the dusty streets of ancient Israel, Jesus explained his purpose in living among humanity was to give everyone a clear picture of God. Jesus called God “Abba” which means “Daddy.” It’s the first word most babies say, even today.

In summation of Jesus' Abba God, one of his disciples wrote: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). All disciples learn this from experiencing and exploring the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. Near the end of his life, Jesus prayed for his disciples then and now. He finished this prayer: “I made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love you have loved me with may be in them and I may be in them” (John 17:26).

Jesus expected his disciples to understand the nature of God because of his words and actions. He had come to show them Abba God was, in a word, Love. Jesus was shocked when they didn’t get it. He asked his disciples, “Have I been among you all this time and you do not know me?” Then he boldly stated, “The one who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). His disciples struggled to see God in Jesus. God had been misrepresented by the religious leaders as only interested in fearful obedience and ritualistic sacrifice. When Jesus calls people to follow him, he teaches them the truth about God. “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus challenged his disciples, “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).

The fullness of God’s love was shown when His Son Jesus was crucified on the cross. Jesus, in death just as in life, showed the love of his Abba God to the world. Before he was fully understood, Jesus said, “If I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). He believed this. His death at the hands of angry jealous mankind was intended to draw all humanity toward God by showing love defeats death, love drives out fear, love conquers all. At the cross, Abba God offers the gift of forgiveness to all, even the men who ordered his death and drove the nails. From the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Years later, reflecting on the death of Jesus, a new disciple – one, like you and I, who didn’t know Jesus while he was on earth – Paul said, “The wages of sin is death.” It always had been. Every Israelite knew they were a sinner and brought sacrifices to the temple to see their sin placed on the animal and to watch as its throat was cut and life flowed out of it. Until, in death, their sins were forgiven, not because of the animal sacrificed but because of their faith. The faith that one day a Messiah would come bringing the fullness of God’s forgiveness with him and ending the wages of sin. What they didn’t know – or didn’t rightly interpret, for it was in their scriptures – was their Messiah would be the ultimate sacrifice. Paul finished this well-known truth with a fresh ending: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23).

For those of us who call ourselves disciples, our task is to show Jesus to the world so they might be drawn toward him and thus to the love of his Abba God. This is our only task.

Looking at Jesus draws us toward Him. Looking anywhere else draws us away from Him.

Have you ever wondered how Paul was able to let go of so much he had previously held sacred? With his eyes firmly fixed on Jesus he dropped distinctions of class, race, gender, law and power.
Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. To those who are without the law, like one without the law—though I am not without God’s law but under the law of Christ—to win those without the law.  To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.  (1 Cor 9:19-22)
How could this disciple let go of so much of what made him who he was? Elsewhere we read Paul was both a Roman citizen and a Jewish Pharisee. He had every right to climb to the top of any stack of humanity in his day and demand people do things his way. And yet, he humbled himself and became “all things to all people.” Why?

Paul believed all people must encounter Jesus who lived to show us the love of his Abba God and died to save all humanity from the wages of sin. Life can only come by looking to Jesus. All else leads to death. Therefore, Paul cast aside as many differences as possible. The only us-vs-them divide worth standing up and shouting about is the one separated by before and after – a personal encounter with the cross of Jesus.

Paul also knew that no matter which side of the cross you currently stand on – before seeing Jesus or after becoming a disciple – you must fix your gaze on Jesus. Look away and you will fall away back into sin, selfishness and death. Furthermore, the life of faith – the disciple’s journey – does not happen in a private bubble. All believers – past, present and future – are watching the disciples of Jesus live their lives. Your focal point is everything.
Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2)
Jesus, The source and perfecter of our faith – That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. If you haven’t met Jesus yet, you will through a disciple who is filled with his love. If you have met Jesus and are a disciple, your faith is being perfected in love so you can show Jesus to those yet to meet him.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” Jesus said, “if you love one another” (John 13:35). This is one of the many changes that take place in the character of every disciple. First and foremost, we become loving and lovable. Then, because we are looking at Jesus, we become more like him with each passing day.

Expecting (or requiring) others to follow God’s requirements before they have met Jesus is to do them a great disservice – perhaps the worst wrong we can do to them. Telling people, before they have met Jesus, how God expects them to live their lives is to require them to obey the law without knowledge of the love of God or the gift of eternal life through his Son.

Separated from the love of God, the Bible and its laws are like acid to the heart of sinful humanity. Forcing the transcript of God’s character into the faces of unrepentant sinners is like holding their eyelids open and forcing them to stare full into the sun. Without Jesus, we have no righteousness of our own to face the requirements of the law of God. Only in the gift of love on the cross can we be saved. Demanding non-believers follow God’s law is the highest form of spiritual abuse. We, instead, should be solely focused on introducing them to Jesus.

Disciples of Jesus, like Paul, put aside all that divides except the cross.

And to that they cling!

Paying it (The Golden Rule) forward


A couple of months ago, while reversing out of a tight carpark, I backed into a car. The rubber of my turned tyre rubbed his mag wheel. He took photos. Got quotes. The first was over $300 to remove a smudge! Finally, after weeks, I paid $165 to remove the smudge from his wheel.

Just a few minutes ago, I got to remove the smudge from my conscience. In the same carpark, coming around the same bend, I was backed into by a lady in a small car as she reversed out. I saw her coming and came to a stop before she t-boned her boot into my side door. It happened fast, but slow (you know what I mean!)

We both stopped. She was as shocked as I had been two months ago when I backed into a car that wasn't there moments before.

"I am sooo sorry!" she nearly cried as we emerged from our cars to survey the damage. I looked at the smudge on the driver door. I looked into her eyes and remembered the way I had hoped a member of my neighbourhood would have treated me not so long ago. And I was overwhelmed with compassion.

"I've got three teenagers learning to drive," I said. "I'm expecting more just like this one! Don't worry about it."

The lady's face changed from dread to disbelief. "REALLY?!"

"Yup," I said, "Forget about it!"

"Oh my," she said crossing her hands over her heart, "You're a dear!"

How good does it feel to "Pay the GOLDEN RULE forward?"
Do unto others what you WISH would happen to you!

The BIG Story - Wordless Flipboard Craft Project

This is a storytelling aide for teaching The BIG Story of God's interaction with humankind. From Creation to Redemption and into Eternity!

Show the colored side to the audience while you read the script on the back. The audience only sees a solid color and thinks about the words as you read them aloud. This also allows the teacher flexibility to change the words for the needs of the audience.


Use this craft project to create story flipboards. Your students can use them to tell the Bible's BIG Story from Kingdom to Kingdom. From before Creation until after Redemption - we are living in an epic story - why not tell the whole thing!?!?

Instructions
Colors: Gold, Black, Red, White, Blue, Green
Design: Flipboard. Rings at the top. Pages are turned by flipping front to back, over the top of the rings. This allows the students to only see the front and the teacher to see the back.
Content: On the front (facing the student) of each page is a solid color. On the back (written on the same background color as the student is seeing) are the words the teacher uses as their cues for the story. They can either read it directly or paraphrase what they read to meet the needs of the audience. To tell the entire story, the teacher flips through the book twice. The story begins and ends with the Gold Cover page. This means while every other color has two readings, Gold has three.

Supplies:
Construction Paper: Gold, Black, Red, White, Blue, Green
Cut to size. Hole punch.
Script: Cut to size
Rings: 2 per Flipboard
Print Script: Cut/Paste into Word.
     Font: Calibri
     Font size (body): 18
     Font size (titles): 22
     Print "4 pages per sheet" and entire script fits on one page.


Script:


Gold

God’s Kingdom: Heaven is a perfect place where God lives. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in Heaven with the angels. They watch over us because they love us very much. This book is the story of how much God loves us. (flip to the next page)

A Day with the King: On the seventh day of Creation Week, God rested. He called the day of rest Sabbath. God, the King of the universe, promised to visit His people every Sabbath. God asked us to rest from our work on Sabbath and spend the day with Him. Every Sabbath is a reminder that God loves us and created us to live for Him. (flip to the next page)

God’s Eternal Kingdom: All Jesus’ disciples are excited about a promise He made. Before He went to Heaven, Jesus promised to come back. When Jesus comes back, the dead will return to life and all who love Him will meet Jesus in the air! He will be our King forever and ever. Jesus says, after we spend 1000 years in Heaven, He will put a great city here on Earth and will live with us from one Sabbath to the next forever and ever!


Black

Creation: When God decided to create you and me, the Bible says it was very dark on Earth. There was no light! The earth had no form. It was completely empty. But God had a plan! (flip to the next page)

Sin: Unfortunately, Adam and Eve choose to go against God. They left the Creator to live life selfishly. They chose Sin. Because of Sin and selfishness, humans are now born in darkness. God saw this and formed a plan – a perfect plan! (flip to the next page)


Red

God’s Spirit: Even in complete darkness, God was nearby. The Bible says, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” which covered the dark, formless, empty earth. And God was about to do something wonderful! (flip to the next page)

God’s Gift: Even in our darkest times, God has not forgotten us. He sent His Son Jesus to live with us, to be one of us. Jesus came, lived and died as the perfect gift from God to His special creation – humans; you and me. Even though we were lost in the darkness of sin, God did something wonderful for us! (flip to the next page)


White 

Light: God spoke out of the darkness. “Let there be… LIGHT!” And there was light! And it was Good. God was beginning something new for me and you. He was creating a place for us to live. (flip to the next page)

Forgiveness: When we say yes to Jesus, we open the gift He gave us on the cross. God’s forgiveness washes away all the darkness of sin and we are made new. The Bible says our hearts become as white as snow! This is so wonderful that it causes us to celebrate! (flip to the next page)


Blue

Out of the Water: With light shining on the watery earth, everything was blue. God pulled some of the water up and put it into the sky. The rest He left below to become the lakes, rivers and oceans. (flip to the next page)

Baptism: Every time one of us is baptised, God says, “This is my child whom I love very much!” The way we celebrate God’s perfect love shown in Jesus’ gift on the cross is by being baptised. We show everyone that we are new. We don’t want to live in darkness anymore. We are washed clean! (flip to the next page)


Green

Life: For the rest of Creation Week, God created land, trees, fish, birds, animals and more. Then God created something special. God created Adam and Eve – the first humans. He took special time creating them. When they were ready, God breathed His Spirit into them and they were filled with life! God showed Adam and Eve everything He had created. He told them how much He loved His Creation. Then, God asked His people to take care of His Creation. (flip to the next page)

Growth: Like a baby, we are born again. We grow to become more like our Heavenly Father. We follow the teachings of Jesus in the Bible so we can grow. When our faith is grown-up we teach other people about Jesus and help them to come out of the darkness of sin, into the light of Jesus, be baptised and grow. We become disciple-makers! (flip to the next page)

Reaching Maasai for Jesus

Janet (by Courtney Tyler)
While in Kenya with ECPK, I was moved by the sincere nature of the Adventists in Maasai land. One of the most regal and inspiring people there was the local church treasurer, a woman named Janet.

Question time in our meetings often lasted longer than the sermon. After the other people had asked a few questions, Janet would ask a question in a way that lead to a time of myself and the translator (Joseph) teaching alongside her. Janet is a brilliant leader.

During one question time, Janet asked if dressing like Maasai was a good thing. I told her it was a beautiful thing! She then invited the matriarch of the village - Mary, Joseph's mother - to tell a story. She told of when she was young and the story of Jesus came to their valley.

The Adventist Evangelist converted a small group and asked them to draw more Maasai into the meetings. He told them they must not dress like natives. So, they dressed like him - walked into the field and waved and called to people passing by. The neighbouring Maasai were concerned and confused by their oddly dressed Maasai friends and gave them a wide berth.

Understanding her own culture better than the evangelist did, Mary told the new Adventists, "Let us go put on our best Maasai clothing and jewelry." They all did and when they came back they called to the people and everyone came. The entire village became Adventist.

"To reach Maasai for Jesus," Mary said, "we must first be Maasai."

Mary (by Courtney Tyler)

What must I do to be saved?

“The Unity of the Gospel”

Sabbath School Helps – Lesson 3 – 14 July 2017


Icebreaker: 

Invite group members to tell the story of a time when they said one thing and did another.


Introduction:

Q. What is a hypocrite? (take a few answers)

Q. How is religious hypocrisy worse than general dishonesty? (It misrepresents God)

Q. When have you seen hypocrisy in yourself? (Tell one yourself! Then ask for more.)


Read Galatians 2:1-10

Why did Paul, Barnabas and Titus go to Jerusalem? See Acts 15:1-2 (To discuss circumcision)

Why did Paul bring Titus to Jerusalem? (living test case: Behold, an uncircumcised follower!)

To whom had they been preaching this law-free Gospel? Galatians 2:2 (gentiles)

How had word of this law-free Gospel got back to Jerusalem? Galatians 2:4 (false brothers)

Why call them false? Galatians 4:5 (the Gospel must be taught a preserved for others)

To whom did they present their views in Jerusalem? Galatians 2:2 (privately, leaders)

Why privately? What does this teach us about dealing with differences among us? (True believers seek to iron out differences within leadership circles. False brothers spread dissention among the young in the faith. This unsettles the community rather than leading from a united front with a clear gospel.)

After the leadership discussions were finished, who made the decision? Galatians 4:9 (Jesus’ inner three: Peter, James and John)

They concluded that circumcision was a dividing line not between disciples but between disciple-makers. All were sent out with the Gospel. Some to the circumcised, some to the uncircumcised.
How might this wisdom be useful in church today?

What was the non-negotiable requirement for church leaders? Why? Galatians 2:10


Read Galatians 2:11-14

Based on the decision above, was Paul justified in calling Peter (Cephas) out for being a hypocrite? Why? (Peter had taken the decision into his lifestyle but not his character!)

Where do we see this kind of two-sided living in our church? (examples of legalism)

Which side should we be living and defending? (law-free gospel!)


Naaman’s Request

In 2 Kings 5 a story is told with a very similar ending to this New Testament circumcision discussion. Naaman, An unbelieving army general of Israel’s enemy Aram, is healed by acting in faith – dipping in the dirty waters of the Jordan River – at the prophet Elisha’s promise from God of healing. Coming up healed, Naaman returns and declares he will only ever worship Israel’s God (2 Kings 5:17) – even asking for dirt from the prophet’s front yard to build an altar upon. Naaman is a new believer! Cleansed! Committed!

Read 2 Kings 5:17-18

Naaman requests permission to enter the house of the false God Rimmon, to bow alongside the king. He asks for pardon for this false worship – prior to doing it. Planning to participate in false worship, Naaman asks for pardon. What is Elisha’s answer?

Read 2 Kings 5:19 (Go in peace)

How is this act of false worship not hypocrisy? (God knows Naaman’s heart)


Local Case Study:

Open communion is practiced in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The church manual states: “All who have committed their lives to the Saviour may participate” (SDA Church Manual, p122). Who do we stop? Why? What does this say about us? Jesus?

The Church manual continues: “Children learn the significance of the service by observing others participate. After receiving formal instruction in baptismal classes and making their commitment to Jesus in baptism, they are thereby prepared to partake in the service themselves” (SDA Church Manual, p122).

Is this truly open communion?

What does it say about our view of a child’s faith?

What did it say about our view of Salvation?

What does your church do? Why?


Big Question:

A Mormon friend invites you to lunch.
As you sit across the table, they open the discussion with a heart-felt question.

You’re an Adventist, I’m a Mormon. Will I be saved?

Having Jesus as you teacher, you answer with a question. What is your question?


Conclusion:

Why did some early Christians first try to make someone a Jew before making them a Christian? (Some Jewish Christians believed non-Jews needed to understand the Jewish history, doctrine and practice to have Jesus.)

What did Paul think about this?

How do we do this to new believers? (Some adults believe young believers need to understand the Adventist history, doctrine and practice before they can truly believe in Jesus.)

What might Paul say to us?

So Many Stories

Carole and Courtney - Sunrise at Mara West
This trip to Kenya, a year in the planning, provided me with more stories in three weeks of experience and listening than I had in the previous ten years.

After spending nearly a week in Eldoret, visiting Hands of Hope Academy each day, we headed into Safari country. I was very excited! I have always loved Africa’s animals and longed to see them in the wild. We were heading to Masai Mara - the national park that becomes the Serengeti when it crosses the Tanzania border.

Driving to Mara West, where we would be staying in Narok county, took a full day. Even though it was less that 300 kilometres, the many bends in the road and various people walking along it’s sides - or in the middle, if they wished! - slowed us down. And that was only the first 200 kms. The final 80 took nearly half the day as it was a dirt road with potholes the size of small cars. Weaving around them or navigating through their depths was a constant choice that slowed us down to just a few kilometres an hour.

We arrived just before dark and were shown to our beautiful tents. The camp host generously upgraded us to tent-cabins. They were luxurious with running water, power and hot showers! The water was heated by a fire under a boiler shared between two cabins.

As we slept, Zebras, Baboons and Giraffes wandered through our camp. The next morning we got up early and boarded our Safari vehicle - a four-wheel-drive setup with seats rising up out of the back and a tarped roof over our heads. It was brilliant! Courtney and I spent the next two days taking pictures and posting them online. It was a once in a lifetime experience!

On those two days of safari, we saw all of the big five - lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. We also saw giraffe, cheetah, meerkat, baboon, crocodile, hyena and more.

One adventure turned into a deep and meaningful conversation. After we watched as a young  male lion stalked and failed to catch a topi, we followed him to a distant waterhole. The guide realised a herd of wildebeest were coming to drink and parked in a prime viewing spot.

“You are going to see a kill!” Our guide said, “I promise you!”

But as we watched the lion hunker down above the waterhole and the wildebeest approach from the other side, a belligerent water buffalo stormed out of the water and drove the lion away.

Moments later, the dejected lion walked right past our safari vehicle, just a few metres away from us - a lion that nearly killed twice.


Courtney and Carole started discussing the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit is just like that water buffalo!” Courtney said, “He sees the Devil stalking us and drives evil away, sometimes before we even see it coming.”

“And He knew I didn’t want to see anything die!” Carole added.

And that got me thinking, brooding silently, about all we had seen in Kenya. What about when it doesn’t happen this way?

We had seen a lot of this in Kenya - bad stuff happening to good people. Happening to children. Joseph and Nestor reach into the darkness where these children live and offer them a pathway that leads to the Light. But what about the others.

I heard story after story. Girls, as young as 9 years old, taken away from the village and forced to undergo circumcision in preparation for marriage. Illegal in Africa, this is an age-old tradition that has now moved underground in many communities.

I heard stories of boys who were unwanted, beaten by their fathers, grandfathers and other men in their lives and fled. Boys who were driven by desperation into a life of crime and gang activity.

I heard so many stories. More than I can recount in this book. There are some that I haven’t told in detail because the content is too shocking. Others I haven’t told because their story is yet another retelling of one already told in these pages. Rael, Christine, Dorcas, Duncan, Grace, Mary - these are but a few of the stories that I learned but have not told.

Hearing the stories of others empowers us to make a difference. By hearing we are called to care. By caring we are called to action. And in action, based on the story of need we have heard, we begin to change lives.

But, facing these stories can leave you soul-numb. Overwhelmed, by the cast of broken characters a million children deep, we begin to wonder, “Can I really make a difference?” Like the old man walking along a beach covered in thousands of stranded starfish, throwing one starfish at a time back into the sea, we lift our eyes to the horizon and see an impossible eternity of broken children in need of rescue. And like the young man who says, “What are you doing? There’s thousands! You can’t make a difference!” we challenge our own sanity and effort.

Yet wisdom’s answer calls us to act on behalf of the one, rather than in some misguided belief that we can change the many. “It mattered to that one!” we say as we pick up one more starfish and launch it into the water of life.

Each act of kindness matters in many ways. It matters to the one we help - changing their life. It matters to us - reinforcing our own nature within our heart. And it matters to those who hear our story - inviting them to become a person who cares enough to join people who make a difference, people who save the world one child at a time.

There is something that happens to your heart when you recognise yourself in those you are saving. Hear your own name in the life of another and you are humbled. One day in Kapune, Carole, Courney and I were having lunch when there was a knock on the door. It was Joseph. “Lekini and his uncle are here to see Carole.” You can read the rest of Lekini’s story in January 3’s journal entry. There is just one bit I left out until now because it has been a redefining story in my life.

We listened to the story of seven men hacking Lekini and his brother to death, and Lekini living despite the odds. We saw the scars. A huge cut across his forearm. Angry scars across the top, side and back of his skull. Lekini had lived through hell. And now he was going to a Christian school to become, he hoped, a lawyer.

“You need to choose an English name,” Carole said to the uncle through Joseph’s interpretation skills. “The school requires it.” Lekini and his uncle had been present for the morning meeting. I had talked about God’s love for us. Lekini’s uncle looked at me and his eyes filled with tears.

“David.” Joseph said, “He wishes that Lekini be called David so that one day he may speak of God as you did today.” Joseph paused as my eyes filled with tears. “This is a great honour,” Joseph said. I nodded my head and said, “I’m happy for Lekini to have my name.”

It mattered to that one. Every orphan in Africa - each child saved by Joseph and Nestor - is another Lekini. Another David. Another me. It matters to this one.

The conversation about the waterhole continued a couple days later. We were in the car. The Safari finished. On our way to Nairobi, we had a long drive and plenty of time to talk.

Carole voiced what we had all thought many times over the past few weeks. “If the Devil is defeated at the cross, why are there still such horrible things happening?”

We were riding in the back of the land-cruiser, Carole and I, able to have a deep conversation. “God’s followers have a habit of getting things wrong.” I said, “Jesus’ disciples misread the prophets and were looking for a deliverer who would rule with an iron rod, a warrior king. Today, we’ve been sold a wrong idea about God, and we tell it to our children. We tell them that God’s defining attribute is power. If this is true, the all that happens on Earth is ultimately God’s fault - because God is in control - he controls everything with His divine power. This is not God’s wish - not the way he wants to be seen, or the way he actually is.”

“God is love.” Carole said, “Love. I know that is God’s main characteristic. But, doesn’t love save those who suffer?”

“Within the bounds of God’s perfect love, His power lives.” I said, “But the ultimate revelation of God’s love is freedom. The perfect love of God allows choices to be made and then honors those choices. But ultimately, Love will win.”

God’s love is perfect. It is patient. Long-suffering.

Jesus said, “God is Love.” The apostles, empowered by Jesus, repeated, “God is Love.” It is the love of God that compels the heart and mind of true believers in every generation. And that love is seen most clearly in the death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s how God demonstrates His love and frames His power.

Jesus came to this earth to demonstrate the Love of God. He came to our waterhole, so to speak. Before Jesus took the cross of Calvary upon Himself, his disciples had the wrong idea about Jesus.

When the disciples came to the waterhole with Jesus, they knew him well. And they knew the powers that stood against him. They knew about the Devil and his angels. They knew about the lion and the crocodiles. But they thought Jesus’ power would dominate. They thought the Messiah, the warrior-king, would walk unscathed through this world. Like an elephant at the waterhole, Jesus would be unable to be touched and he would set up his Kingdom.

And so, they looked for power in the life of Jesus. And they saw it! But what they didn’t realise is that Jesus’ power is confined within a greater reality - God’s Love. They watched what they thought was an elephant walking through the streets of Jerusalem and wondered how anyone could miss it! And they asked, “When? When will Jesus demonstrate his power?”

They were looking for the wrong animal at the waterhole. Jesus hadn’t come to show power but love. He hadn’t come to fulfill the wishes of the disciples but to reveal the nature of His Father.

He hadn’t come to the waterhole as an elephant, stomping his way to victory.

He hadn’t come as a buffalo, sniffing out evil and driving it away.

Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” He hadn’t come to show God’s power but God’s love.

Jesus showed God’s love by entering the waterhole as a wildebeest.

Like many others before Him, Jesus was lifted up and nailed to a cross. Rome had crucified thousands. Even on that day, there were three.

Jesus entered our waterhole like any of the millions before him.

The roaring lion, looking for someone to devour, leapt upon Jesus – driving his clawed nails into hands and feet.

The crocodile, leviathan, roused from despairs depths - took hold of his side – and beginning the death roll, pulled Jesus under - into murky darkness.

And Jesus died.

“If you’ve seen me,” Jesus said, “you’ve seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

“I give you a new command:” Jesus said, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

After a long drive and discussion on the nature of God and the world, Carole said, “So we just love these kids – and that’s enough?”

“Yes,” I said. “But there is something else we give them. You talk about it all the time.”

“Hope.” Carole said, “We give hope to the children we save. Because we are teaching them about Jesus. That gives them a hope for a future beyond this world of pain and death.”

“Yes!”

Carole continued, a bit excited now, “And we are giving them an education which will provide a chance at a happier life than they would have had on this earth. I just wish we could help more. Save more. Change the lives of more children.”

“You are.” I said, “And you’re doing it God’s way.”

“We are?” Carole said.

“Yes.” I said, “God doesn’t see time like we do. When He rescued the children of Israel, He waited 400 years before mounting his rescue effort. And when he did rescue them, He took 40 years to complete it. When changing lives of many, God works on a generational time scale rather than performing quick fixes.”

“How is that like what we are doing?” Carole said.

“You are educating these kids.” I said, “When they are grown and married, they will teach their children what they have learned. You are taking entire families out of poverty. One child becomes one generation becomes - in time – one nation, Kenya. You are changing the world, Carole. God’s way.”

There are thousands of children - like wildebeest heading into the waterhole. It is a rare person who can live among them like Jesus, or Joseph or Nestor. This is a very special calling. Very few of us are Saviours. But all of us are disciples.

And like the disciple Peter, we are still alive because – now that we understand it – we have accepted the rescue Jesus offered on the cross and the eternal life He promised by conquering the grave. We have hope because we know the rest of the story. May we make this hope of a better life a reality for as many of God’s children as possible.

Dave Edgren ~ Story: Teller, Author, Trainer ~

BOOK DAVE NOW! Dave Edgren is passionate about creating a values-based storytelling culture. In his engaging and often hilarious way,...