Ray Vander Laan: Now, we want to reclaim politics, of course. We want to reclaim economics, of co … we want to reclaim the media. Praise God, it should all be used to honor His name. But the key is to realize that the way you change the world is to be the love of God in flesh, even to those we disagree with.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well, last time we heard from Ray Vander Laan about ways that we can apply the mission of Jesus to our own lives and live out a life of love and compassion on a world that so desperately needs to know God. And Ray is back with us again today on “Focus on the Family.” Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Man, I don’t know about you, John, but did you learn a few things last time?
John: Oh (Laughter) yeah.
Jim: I mean, man, I was goin’—
John: A lot of things.
Jim: –wow! Just that comparison to the Caesars and how they were coronated. And then Jesus and it’s just amazing. I learned so much. I love the way Ray teaches. He pulls things out of Scripture that most people miss. And Ray has been doing tours in Israel and other places of the New and Old Testament for many years with Focus on the Family. And we have, of course, produced with Ray, the That the World May Know series. And we are releasing set No, 14 in that series and this is something, you know, I’ve sat with my boys, and we have done as a Bible study in our home, because they’re just wonderful vignettes of things that help you better understand what the Scripture, what the Lord is conveying. And I can’t imagine why anybody would say, I don’t want to get that.
John: Yeah, these videos are so well done, and we’ve used them in our Sunday school class. There are so many insights that Ray offers in the now 14 different sets of That the World May Know. And if you’re not familiar with this incredible series, stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. We’ll have some samples for you to see. We’ll have some samples there for you to see.
Jim: Ray, welcome back to Focus.
Ray: Thank you.
Ray: This is exciting.
Jim: –I was just tellin’ the folks, if they missed last time, they need to download it, get a copy of the CD or whatever, ’cause it was really invigorating spiritually what you were sharing.
Ray: Thank you.
Jim: I don’t’ want to cover that ground again, so I apologize to somebody who’s just joining us today, but get it. Get a copy of it. We talked about how Jesus was led to His death and how they mocked Him for that, yet He rose again. And I want to pick the story up there, after Jesus reappears and He ascends to the Lord. That had to be stunning to those who claimed to be Christ-followers.
Ray: I’m sure those first reports as they circulated must have been absolutely stunning and thrilling to the early followers of Jesus. The interest in the ascension started with me when I visited Rome a few years back. And I stood next to the Arch of Titus, which celebrates the victory of Titus’ father and Titus himself—his father, Vespasian—over the Jews in the Jewish revolt.
So, I was looking at the carving of the Jewish menorah from the Temple that’s on it, the table of showbread that’s being carried triumphantly into Rome on it. But I noticed something I had never seen before or even heard anything about before, and that is, under the arch, on the main panel, on the bottom of the arch, as you walk under it, on that panel is an eagle, an enormous Roman eagle. And seated on the back of the eagle is Titus, who is ascending to heaven—
Ray: –to become one of the gods. And as I was thinking about that, it struck me, so there were two ascension stories in the culture that the Bible was in. One, the one we’re familiar with on the Mount of Olives, of Jesus. The other of several of the leading Caesars who were the rulers at the time the New Testament happened.
So, I began to probe other scholars and experts who’ve looked at the ascension more carefully, and it struck me that it is one of the most important events in the life of Jesus, in terms of its implications of how we’re supposed to live. First, it’s built on an Old Testament foundation. Moses ascended to God and God gave him—
John: As he went up the mountain.
Ray: –on Mount Sinai and then again at his death on Mount Nebo. So, the idea a great character in God’s plan who completes his work and then ascends triumphantly to God Himself, is not new. Elijah, the same–
Ray: –fiery chariot, Elijah goes to be with God. In the book of Daniel, there’s a vision Daniel has in Chapter 7 in which this exalted Son of Man, that we in Christianity believe is a prophecy of Jesus, is seated at the right hand of God in the heavens. But He’s seated at the right hand of God, not just to glorify Him, but that becomes for him the CEO’s office.
Jim: And how?
Ray: He rules on earth through His followers, and the authority to rule is granted by the fact He’s seated at the right hand of God. Now that was exactly what the Romans taught about their emperor. So, I think in the context of the Bible, the ascension was Jesus’ way of saying, yes, I’m triumphant. I’ve completed My redemptive work. Yes, I’m preparing a place and will return to take you to be with me.
But I want to extend my reign on earth. I have taken the CEO’s chair. I am Lord of heaven, but Lord of all things, the New Testament says. I am Lord. And I want to extend My kingdom, My reign here on earth through My sons and daughters, who are sons and daughters of the King.
And I think the ascension is a challenge to Jesus’ followers to say, “We are called to live here in a broken world, not just marking time until He comes again, but until then, to find every single way we can to extend His reign.” Now the question becomes how do we do that?
Jim: And what character do we use—
Ray: And what character—
Jim: –to do it?
Ray: –do we use to do that? And it strikes me that Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven through His ministry is very much in keeping with the Jewish understanding of kingdom, where kingdom in a Western mind tends to refer to a territory. So, we have the kingdom of Britain in the past or the kingdom of Rome. Kingdom in the Jewish mind is a place, a situation where the king’s will is done.
Ray: So, you could say, England or let’s say the 13 Colonies belong to the King of England. But the colonists weren’t doing his will.
Jim: And didn’t like him.
Ray: And didn’t like him. (Laughter) So, a Jew would say, “Well, then it wasn’t his kingdom.” So, the question that this ascension asks is, does God’s kingdom exists, and is it extended in your life and mine today? And you say, how? Are you doing His will?
Jim: And Ray, let me ask you a real simple question. How do we know as Christ followers, that we are doing His will?
Ray: That’s a really difficult question and yet, I think, let me say it this way. I think what’s difficult about that question is, it takes a community to do that. His will in my opinion, is “inscripturated” in the inspired Word of God. And He’s indicated to us in that Word, put into flesh by how He lived, what it looks like to live faithfully in obedience to God, not to be saved. We’re saved by grace. But every time I obey the King in big or little things or you do or our community does, we extend His reign by just a square inch.
So, if I run my business faithfully to God, His kingdom grows. My business becomes a part of His kingdom where His will is done. I love that whole idea. For example, I think what you do here at Focus is, you enable and help to equip parents and grandparents to do the will of God in families.
Ray: And each time that’s done, God’s kingdom grows by one family or two families or three families. It’s not extended first of all, by the ballot box, as important as that is. It’s not extended, first of all, by some economic program. It’s extended as each one of us does the will of God.
I say to my students, “So, you’re gonna head out to Purdue. You’re gonna head out to the University of Michigan. You’re gonna head out to a Christian college, Wheaton College, Calvin College, Hope College. Now when you get there, you’re gonna face a choice. Will I do the will of God in class, in the dorm, at the weekend party? And you will either give away a square inch that belongs to the King by refusing to do His will, or you will take away a square inch that the evil one now has as you do his will.
Jim: Ray, when you describe that, it’s a little bit of a version of the Great Commission, isn’t it?
Ray: It’s exactly the Great Commission.
Jim: Talk about the Lord and how He did that and why He did that.
Ray: It seems to me that the way Jesus extended His kingdom was diametrically opposed to Caesar. Yes, they both claimed ascension. They both claimed authority, because they were seated at the right hand of God. But Caesar spread his kingdom with violence and blood and power, taking advantage of the weak for the sake of the Roman imperial power.
Jesus extended His kingdom by doing the will of His Father, by loving His neighbor, by loving His enemy, by touching the unclean, by caring about sinners. And each time He put into practice the will of God, God’s kingdom was extended in that part of His world.
Jim: Yeah and it feels, Ray, to be honest, it feels upside down.
Ray: It is upside [down].
Jim: Why does our human flesh move toward the power center, the ballot box? This is how we’re gonna do it. We gotta get behind—
Jim: –a single candidate. We’ve gotta force them. We—
Jim: –gotta hold them accountable. We’ve gotta find a way to turn this legislation—
Jim: –over. But that’s not the way God is thinking about this. He’s saying turn your neighbor upside down.
Jim: Love your neighbor.
Ray: And I think about this a lot. I’m in the Reformed tradition, where we emphasize the sovereignty of God in all of life. All Christians believe in this, but I think it’s a unique emphasis we make, at least how often we speak of it.
And so, I think it’s important that we have political influence. I think it’s important that we are involved in economics and in all the other areas of life. But somehow from the beginning, the evil one has been able to convince sinful human beings of advancing themselves, or their agenda in a way that’s diametrically opposed to how God does it.
Ray: And He came to say, you know, I think of the scene, where Jesus stood in front of Pilate and Pilate said to Him, “Are you a King?” And Jesus responded and some translations say, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Ray: And some translate that to mean, “My kingdom isn’t here, so hang in here. It’s an evil, sinful world. Someday I’ll take you to a better one.” But I don’t think how it was read by the early believers. I think it was read, “My kingdom did not come from this world. It’s in this world. It’s growing in this world every single day.”
He said the kingdom is here among you, so it is in this world, but it came from another place. It’s exactly the opposite of what this world thinks changes the brokenness into wholeness. And God came to say, no, it’s sacrificial living. It’s being a light to the Gentiles. It’s making my name known. It’s loving your neighbor and even your enemy—
Ray: –that changes the world.
John: Wow, we’re hearing some great aspirational and inspirational insights, a little challenging, as well, Ray, (Laughter) as we talk to Ray Vander Laan today on “Focus on the Family.” And he is the founder of That the World May Know Ministries. For many, many years now Focus on the Family has had a series, a video series called That the World May Know and as we do this, let me remind you, set No. 14 is The Mission of Jesus. And there’s a DVD and Discovery Guide. You can about this series and that new episode at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
John: And Ray, I said “convicting.” As you’re talking, I’m inspired to go say yes every inch. But truthfully (Laughing), before I get home tonight, I’m gonna mess up and I’m gonna kinda cede an inch, if you will to the enemy. How do I reconcile all of that? I mean, I want to live for God, but my flesh says, “Yeah, not so much.”
John: So, how do we deal with failures when we don’t claim the kingdom as you’re saying we should?
Ray: You know, that’s not a simple question. It’s a great question, but not an easy question. I think it’s what some scholars have called “the already and the not yet.” We live in an age where Jesus has won the victory, where He is seated at the right hand of God and given all authority, heaven and on earth. So, it’s already here. But it’s yet completed. It’s not consummated, so we wrestle with this having one foot in both worlds.
But it strikes me we cannot use that as an excuse for not pursuing with all our might faithfulness. Not to be saved, that’s by grace, but because we’re saved, to become this community of people who accept Israel’s mission, who accept Jesus’ mission, which is now the disciples’ mission and that is, because He’s seated at the right hand of God and He has all authority, I need to show the world what it looks like when God reigns.
What does a community look like when God is in charge? When that community fails, it seeks His forgiveness. When it’s empowered by the Spirit and is able to be faithful, it says, “Hey, world, this is what it looks like when God is in charge.”
And I find myself thinking, so what does our record look like as Christians? We’re supposed to say to the world, not tell them this is what marriage is, but to show the world, this is what marriage looks like when God is in charge, because we’re living that way.
Ray: This is what school looks like when God is in charge. This is what a business looks like when God is in charge. This is what a ministry looks like when God is in charge, because He’s King here today at Focus on the Family.
And I look at our record sometimes and I think, God must wring His hands and say, “What are you saying to the world? You live in a way that sometimes isn’t all that different” and I can’t believe that empowered by the Spirit, directed by the text, we may ever be content with that.
Jim: Boy, we share that passion. I mean, I’m sitting here. My jaw’s open, because when it comes to divorce, I mean, let’s get to the nitty-gritty. I mean our divorce rates aren’t that much different from the world’s, and that communicates a horrible message to the world, that basically we’re hypocrites–
Jim: –to be—
Ray: And what does it—
Ray: –mean that God is King is our marriages are no different than anyone else’s?
Jim: And I know that hurts. That may wound, but it is real and we’ve got to begin to live it better. If we are losing our grip on those inches that we’ve talked about—
Jim: –I think the only way we’re going to regain some of those spaces that God has given us in the past is to live it well—
Jim: –and to live it better—
Jim: –so that people respect the God that we serve.
Jim: I mean, I love that Scripture that says, “Do these good deeds so they’ll honor your Father in heaven.”
Jim: And that includes our families and our marriages and how we treat our children—
Jim: –isn’t it?
Ray: Absolutely, absolutely everything.
Jim: Ray, I am so grateful. We’ve talked about the big things of Christianity. I mean, the death and resurrection of Christ, His ascension. There’s another one that I want to touch on, Pentecost, which a lot of people may not spend enough time really understanding, but Pentecost is critical to the follower of Christ, because it allows His Spirit to indwell us.
Ray: Yeah, it’s tremendous. That’s huge. There’s another great event on the church’s calendar that I sometimes wonder why we don’t make a bigger deal about. We’ve looked at that before in past That the World May Know sets programs.
What we focused, what I focused on this particular time is the unique element of Pentecost. Let me show you what I mean. If you look at the Bible’s description of what we call “heaven,” it really defines heaven in two ways, in two different focuses.
On the one sense, heaven is this eternal dwelling where all of us will live, the new heavens and the new earth. My mother, my father, are in heaven today. In another sense, heaven is where God is. So, heaven is this experience of being in communion and union with God. Now if you go back to the beginning of the Bible, I think sometimes it’s easy to think that God was in heaven, and Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden. But if you read the story, no, God was in the Garden of Eden, too. Heaven and earth are one.
Jim: They would walk in the cool—
Ray: They would walk—
Jim: –of the day.
Jim: (Chuckling) Yeah, I like [that].
Ray: And it isn’t that heaven was up there, and God was down here. All was heaven. Then came sin, and God, being holy, cannot live in the presence of wickedness, and so, there’s a separation. He now looks down and comes down. The Bible is the story of God, slowly restoring His presence. So, I think of it as two circles. This is God’s presence, or heaven. And this other circle is earth. It first came to the Tabernacle, and those two circles overlapped, just a 30 x 10—
Ray: –space. That’s it, but at that spot, heaven and earth meet. And in the person of the high priest or Moses, people could actually be in communion with God, echoing what they had in Eden. Then the Tabernacle is set aside, because they’re settled. Now the Temple became that spot. And at that spot where heaven and earth meet, people found the forgiveness of sins.
Then Jesus came, and they’re shocked that He can forgive sins. But where Jesus is, heaven and earth meet. And wherever you found Jesus, you have this unbelievable place, not only in His person as God and man, but because He is God, as you are in the very presence of Jesus as a disciple or a follower or someone listening to the Sermon on the Mount, you have just a taste of what it’s like when heaven and earth meet. But then He leaves. He ascends and goes back. But on Pentecost, He moves out of one house into a new house, a change of address and His presence now dwells in this temple called the community of faith.
And that’s another way of looking at the ascension story, because what it says it, where God’s people live, their neighbors, believers or not, oughta discover what it’s like when heaven and earth meet. What’s it like to experience the very presence of God? Well, come and meet my neighbor whose family, there are believers. Come and sit in on my church. Come to my business. I’m a Christian businessman or woman, and this business of ours, we seek to run in a godly way. They will experience the very presence of God in His community.
Jim: Boy, that’s good. That is good. Ray, let me ask you this. When you look at God’s signposts, the way that He’s clearly identified what it means to be in His Spirit, you know, right there in Galatians 5:22, that the fruit of the Spirit , “Of you’re in Me”—
Jim: –I mean, basically here’s the fruit of My Spirit.
Jim: It’s love. It’s joy. It’s peace. It’s goodness, kindness, mercy–
Jim: –patience, self-control. And what I’ve been drawn to lately, He was thoughtful enough to say, if you’re in the fruit of the other guy—wickedness—this is what it’ll look like. And you know, we, I think in the Christian community, quickly throw off those adjectives because we don’t see ourselves in them, because some of them are sexually related. Let me just read 5:19. “Now the works of the flesh are evident, sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery.” Now it shifts a little bit. It says, “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissentions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these.” That middle set so often describes our behavior.
Jim: Fits of anger, jealousy, strife, envy.
Jim: And I’m challenging myself every day not to be rooted in that, even though in this moment in our culture and the battle in our culture, it’s so easy to go there.
Jim: How do we refrain from sinking our roots that are God-intended—
Jim: –into this fruit of nastiness?
Ray: Complicated question. Let me start at the starting point. It would’ve been easy from my point of view, at least, if God had said, “I’m gonna show the whole universe what I’m like and put on this cosmic display.” Can you imagine what God could do?
Ray: I mean, given what we see in the creation, imagine if He really wanted to show the world what He was like. But He didn’t. He picked out a community of broken sinful humans. Redeemed them, empowered them with His Spirit, instructed them in this Book we call the “Text” and said, “Now you show them what I’m like. You be My witnesses. You make my name known. You be a kingdom of priests that put Me on display.”
It seems to me that part of the reason, as a Christian sometimes, or even as a Christian community, we are not uncomfortable with being that much like the world is, we don’t take seriously that we are God’s billboard. We are God’s marketing plan.
Ray: And if we don’t display Him as He is, the world will never know Him. And I think sometimes, yes, we do need to learn about repentance. Yes, we do need to be instructed about righteousness and morality. Yes, we do need to have community, accountability. Those are all really important biblical things. But, if I would take seriously that I am God’s marketing plan for Him, now it makes my disobedience, or my tolerance of less than righteous attitudes and actions in my own life, even more unacceptable, because I’m letting Him down.
Jim: Yes. That is so true. Man, That The World May Know.
Jim: You’ve been at it a (Laughter) long time. set 14, The Mission of Jesus. I’m tellin’ you folks, you gotta get it and we want to make that available to you. Ray, once again, it’s been great havin’ you here. I can’t wait till you come back again—
Ray: Thank you.
Jim: –and lookin’ forward to being with you on a trip to Israel that’s comin’ up.
Ray: Bless God. I love bringing people to the land of the Bible, not simply because it’s this moment to walk where Jesus walked. That it is, but because it highlights the fact that God prepared a place as carefully for His message and His plan, as He prepared the people who are in it.
Ray: And it’s exciting.
John: What a terrific conversation this has been and Jim, this is something you’re passionate about, cultivating the spiritual life of our listeners.
Jim: It’s true, John. We have no idea who we’re gonna hear from today or what God has spoken to someone’s heart. It’s one of the blessings we get to experience as people call us or e-mail us or write us. One listener just wrote to us and said this: “Thank you for always featuring the best and the deepest resources and people that connect to all of us on some level. As we walk with Jesus through this life, we are grateful for all you do and we’ll continue to support you with our finances and sing your praises to others in need of hearing these messages. You are a lifeline for so many in so many ways.”
Now that’s way too much credit for us here at Focus, but it’s the Lord working through all of us and that’s why we’re here and it’s so encouraging to get this kind of feedback. Let me say thank you for helping us to build people up spiritually, which we need desperately in this world today. When you give to Focus on the Family, that’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna help people go deeper in their relationship with Christ, to help their marriages, to help their parenting and to help their families.
John: Well, join us in this mission and make a donation, a generous donation of any amount and we’ll send set 14, the DVD of The Mission of Jesus from That the World May Know Series . it’s a great resource for you to use in your home, church or small group. And because of some generous friends, when you donate today, your gift will be doubled to help us reach even more people in the coming days. Details at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A the word FAMILY.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow, when you’ll hear from Dr. Greg Smalley about parenting teens through tough times.
Dr. Greg Smalley: Healthy failure is recognizing how God will use the trials in our life to grow up to be more like him. At the end of the day, that’s our job to help our kids become more like Christ.
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John: That’s tomorrow, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.