How would you answer if asked: What is the kingdom of God? Perhaps, thinking back on historical kingdoms, you might say any kingdom is defined as the territory over which a king rules. Since we understand that God is the Creator of all things (Gen 1-2), then God’s Kingdom must be the whole universe. It follows then that since He reigns everywhere, the kingdom of God is everywhere.

That answer makes sense given that the Creator is sovereign over all He has created. However, when reading references to the kingdom of God in the New Testament, there seems to be something more being presented. For example, when John the Baptist announced, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matt 3:2) And again, when Jesus says: From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17) The question then is: If the kingdom of God consists of all the universe over which God reigns, why would John the Baptist announce, and Jesus affirm, that the kingdom of God was near or about to come to pass? It seems obvious that John the Baptist and Jesus meant something more about the concept of the Kingdom of God.

As we read further in the New Testament, it presents the central theme of these kingdom of God pronouncements as the idea of God’s messianic kingdom. A kingdom that will be ruled by God’s appointed Messiah, who will not just be the Redeemer of His people, but their King. So, when John speaks of the radical nearness of this breakthrough, the intrusion of the kingdom of God, he’s speaking of the kingdom of the Messiah. And when Jesus went about preaching the same thing, it was God Himself saying “amen” to John’s words.

Some believe that His kingdom has nothing to do with the present, but is something that comes only at “the end of time” when Jesus comes again. Why then during His earthly ministry, would Jesus make comments such as, “If I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). Or, when Jesus sent out seventy disciples on a preaching mission, He instructed them to tell cities that refused to repent “The kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:11b). How could the kingdom be upon the people or near them if it were just a spiritual kingdom far off? The kingdom of God was near to them because the King of the kingdom was there. Not a future event, but the here and now. I believe it’s clear that Jesus’ second coming will be the consummation of His present reign, for He inaugurated the kingdom of God during His first coming.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”(Mark 1:14–15).

Christ is King right this minute, given all authority in heaven and on earth. When we seek to be used by God to lead others to the truth, we bear witness to King Jesus. And as we go before His return, it is through our obedience to the Kings command that the Father will call people to worship Him and the Kingdom of God will become more visible to the world. (Matt. 28:18–20)

How do we know that we are truly following Jesus and His ways? The writer of 1 John tells us that one of the tests of authentic Christianity is that all those who claim to follow God can be found walking in the light (1 John 1:6–7). John wrote this to believers because of false teachers claiming to believe in God even though they were walking in deeds of darkness. In summary, he points out that when someone’s life is characterized primarily by sin, we have good reason to assume that his profession is not genuine.

At first glance, this seemingly creates an issue for us. Is John teaching that unless we are sinless and perfect we do not truly belong to Christ? How righteous do we have to be before we know we are truly in the light?

The key passage we will consider sheds light on these questions by letting us know that even true Christians will continue to struggle with sin. John tells us in 1:8 that if we claim to have no sin, we have deceived ourselves and the truth is not in us. Even as a Christian grows in holiness, it will not be until after our deaths when we will be completely free from sin.

It appears that the false teachers John has in mind were not only unconcerned with the dark deeds they were performing they were claiming to be without sin altogether. The clear truth of 1 John 1:8 makes such a claim of sinlessness only further evidence of a lack of authentic faith. John strengthens his argument by telling us that the Christian life is in one sense a life lived in tension. On the one hand, believers will live such good lives that it can be said we walk in the light (vv. 6–7). On the other hand, truly walking in the light will clearly reveal to us the reality of remaining sin, reminding us of our need for repentance and forgiveness (vv. 8, 10).

The conclusion is that true Christians will walk in the light of God’s will and avoid sin, though never perfectly. Because we still struggle with sin does not mean we lack true faith, for God is always faithful and just to forgive us of our sins if we turn to Him in repentance (v. 9). Walking in the light does not mean we will be free from sin. Rather, it means we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17–19). The evidence of this is as we, striving to be more conformed to the image of Christ, become distressed whenever we do sin and thus repent and turn to the Savior for cleansing.

Father, I thank You that You are a forgiving and faithful God. I cry out to You today and ask that You will forgive me of all my sins, knowingly and unknowingly, that they may be wiped clean. Strengthen my spirit that I may walk in the light and not submit to the desires of my flesh. I pray that the desires of my heart shall be your will, so that I will not sin against you, Amen.

This verse from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia should lay to rest what it is that saves us.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13)

He makes it clear in the previous verses that our works are not what makes us right (redeemed) and acceptable to God. Hear this:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” (vs. 10-12)

Why is it then that fallen man wants to believe the lie that we can earn our place in heaven? The simple answer is that salvation by working hard to be good enough just seems right to us. One of mankind’s most basic desires is to be in control of his own destiny, and that includes his eternal destiny. Salvation by works appeals to our pride and our desire to be in control. Being saved by works appeals to that desire far more than the idea of being saved by faith alone. Also, we who live in the Western world have been raised to have an appetite for justice. Our inherent sense of right and wrong demands that if we are to be saved, our “good works” must outweigh our “bad works.” It follows that when man creates a religion it would include some type of salvation by works. That is why salvation by works or meritorious actions form the basis of almost every religion except for Christianity. What we read in (Proverbs 14:12) points directly to this idea when it tells us that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Salvation by works just seems right to us. That is exactly why Christianity is so different from all other religions—it is the only religion that teaches salvation is an unmerited gift of God and not of anything we can do to earn it. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Another reason why salvation by works is appealing is because man views sin from his own perspective rather than from God's perspective. In other words, we do not think our sins are that bad, yet God has a perfect perspective regarding how sin separates us from a holy God. Scripture says, man’s heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), and God is infinitely holy (Isaiah 6:3).

It is the deceit of our hearts that blinds us from seeing our true state before a God whose holiness we are unable to fully grasp. But the truth is simply this - our sinfulness and God’s holiness combine to make our best efforts as “filthy rags” before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6).

Our vain attempts to live righteously is a point Paul makes again and again in Romans. Consider this - if any Old Testament patriarchs could have been declared righteous on account of their works, surely it would be men like Abraham and David. However, they are instead prime examples of justification by faith alone, apart from works. Their obedience to the Lord came as a result of the faith, the loyalty and trust, they had in the grace of God. As Paul says in (Romans 4:5) “To the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

We should be glad that God does not wait for us to do good deeds before He issues His verdict. He knows (and so should we) that our works of obedience are inevitable and necessary, if we have true faith (James 2:14–26). But they always flow from our justification. Our own deeds of kindness and mercy alone will never be good enough to be justified before the Lord. Only the good works of Jesus can earn God’s favorable verdict (Rom. 3:20; 2 Cor. 5:21).

We can conclude that it was only because God condemned our sin at the cross and then imputed Jesus’ righteousness to those who have faith in Him that we have hope of standing before the judgement seat of Christ without fear.

Father, help me to not be caught up in trying to earn your favor as a way of justifying myself. Remind me that apart from Christ, all of us would be condemned to die in our sins, but in Christ, we have new life and are justified by His blood. Thank You for Your amazing grace. Amen

The sermon at our church this past Sunday was about the mandate of forgiveness. A mandate is an official order or commission to do something. Consider this verse, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32). For me, his verse sheds light on the Lord's Prayer where Jesus teaches us to ask our Father to forgive us. It’s in this prayer that Jesus explains God's forgiveness of us, and our forgiveness of others are connected. We ask Him to "forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt. 6:12). He goes on to tell us that "if [we] do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will [our] Father forgive [our] trespasses" (vv. 14–15).

This text seems a bit difficult at first reading. Does Jesus mean that our forgiveness of others earns the Lord's pardon for us? If God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others, is salvation suddenly not all about grace? The answer to both questions is no. Christ is not speaking of how we receive forgiveness, but He teaches us about the Christian’s disposition concerning forgiveness considering God's grace towards us. As fallen people because Adam first sinned, we have nothing good in ourselves to bring before the Lord. Our only hope is to abandon any pretense of our own goodness—to reject any thought that the Father owes us pardon and favor—and throw ourselves on God's mercy (Luke 18:9–14). When we do this (leaning solely on the grace of God) it becomes clear that we too must be merciful toward those who have wronged us. It would be arrogant to withhold our forgiveness from those who ask for it sincerely. Since the Creator forgives us when we repent, how can we who are unclean apart from God's mercy in Christ dare to refuse others our forgiveness?

Simply put, if we do not forgive, we are setting a higher bar than God does. We are exalting ourselves as better than other sinners in the Lord's eyes, revealing that we have likely not understood the grace of God at all. We show that we are not relying on the Father's promises alone but are instead trying to bring something before God to earn His favor. We are demonstrating an attitude that says, "I deserve God's forgiveness, but others do not." If we insist on withholding our forgiveness from repentant people, we reveal that we do not understand Christ’s love for us. John Calvin put it this way, "Those who refuse to forget the injuries which have been done to them, devote themselves willingly and deliberately to destruction, and knowingly prevent God from forgiving them."

My prayer Father is to help me to forgive. Take the burden of unforgiveness and bitterness away from me. Help me to give up my right to get even. Free me from wanting to hang on to any wrongs that have been done to me. I want to forgive as you have forgiven me. I don’t have the strength in myself, but I know with your strength and in your power, I can forgive. Show me the way Jesus. Amen

Should we care about prisoners?

Any story highlighting caring about prisoners or issues such as overcrowding in Kentucky jails and prisons is likely to be met by society with at least a few social media comments asking, “why should I care?”. After all, the argument goes, people are in prison because they have done something wrong. And jail or prison is not meant to be a holiday with a private suite – in some fashion, every prison term, short or long, is designed to create an “I don’t want to come back here again” response. And don’t jails and prisons also protect the interest of the public by making our communities a safer place to live and work? That’s true. Here is another truth - unless you are a victim of a person’s crime or have some connection to them, it can be easy for us to not think too much about what happens behind prison walls. We’ve all heard, “do the crime – do the time”. But is that all there is?

With this background, I want to propose that there are several reasons why we should care. What happens or doesn’t happen inside prisons affects all of us on the outside, too.

  1. Most prisoners will be released

    The simple reason we should all care is this - most prisoners will have a good prospect for release. When they do, each one will initially take up a place back in the community and be someone’s neighbor. Therefore, an element of self-interest should exist in each of us about what happens to prisoners while incarcerated. Proper preparation before release is key. The last thing anyone should want is to have people coming out of prison, not just unprepared for re-entry, but perhaps much worse than when they went in. Serving time alone will not assure a person will not make the same poor choices again. Not focusing on rehabilitation makes reoffending more likely and creates even more victims of crime.
  2. Not everyone in prison has been found guilty

    Bureau of Justice Statistics data reveal that jails held 745,200 inmates in 2017 (the latest available data), virtually identical to the 747,500 they held in 2005, and significantly higher than the 584,400 they held in 1998. How then does the correctional system keep jails full when there just aren’t as many crimes as there used to be? By locking up an increasing number of people who are awaiting trial and could well be innocent or released because their crimes are not serious. The number of individuals held in jail while awaiting trial has soared 45.3 percent, from 331,800 in 1998 to 482,000 in 2017. By contrast, the number of convicted inmates is almost the same as it was 20 years ago (252,600 in 1998 vs. 263,200 in 2017). About 95 percent of the jail population’s growth is thus accounted for by people who haven’t yet been convicted of a crime. While this data is a couple of years old, the more current partial data report similar numbers.
  3. Incarceration alone isn’t going to create better people

    Prisoners just serving out their sentence does little to help the rehabilitation process. Just keeping your nose clean and spending long periods of time doing nothing does not equip a person for eventual release. Sadly, doing just that is what most prisoners experience. Idle time has increased in 2020 with COVID restrictions in place that keep outside groups from the kind of interaction with prisoners that can help them find purpose while inside that can prepare them to live out that purpose on the outside. And the overcrowding mentioned earlier exacerbates the problem.
  4. It’s your money - lots of your money

    The average cost of providing a prison place for an inmate in Kentucky for 1 year is just under $25,000. And with recidivism that has 3 of 5 prisoners reoffending within 5 years, that expense is becoming unbearable. With a 2020 budget for the KY Department of Corrections of nearly $645 million, it is in everyone’s best interest to rehabilitate prisoners before they are released. If not, then more money will be wasted. More importantly, lives of those that could have changed, will not have that opportunity.
  5. Children – the collateral consequences

    Having a parent in prison can have an impact on a child’s mental health, social behavior, and educational prospects. The emotional trauma that may occur and the practical difficulties of a disrupted family life can be compounded by the social stigma that children may face as a result of having a parent in prison or jail. Children who have an incarcerated parent may experience financial hardship that results from the loss of that parent’s income. Further, some incarcerated parents face termination of parental rights because their children have been in the foster care system beyond the time allowed by law or have questions about child support. These children require support from local, state, and federal systems to serve their needs.

Children of incarcerated parents may also face a number of other challenging circumstances. They may have experienced trauma related to their parent’s arrest or experiences leading up to it. Children of incarcerated parents may also be more likely to have faced other adverse childhood experiences, including witnessing violence in their communities or directly in their household or exposure to drug and alcohol abuse.

What drives our mission is simple - Jesus says we should care
If you are reading this blog post, you are on our website where there is much information about our approach to changing the trajectory of lives. We believe it is one life at a time where we can make a difference. Every person and family we work with will be counseled, mentored, helped in practical ways and provided with a spiritual anchor to help them navigate their way to a better life. For this and all the reasons above, we encourage you to partner with us more than ever before. We need prayers, volunteers and financial support. Please consider how you can link arms with us in caring for "the least of these".

Matthew 25:35-40. May God Bless.

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