"Treasure In Clay Jars" series


population sign at Alpena Arkansas How many of us have looked over our schedule and our vacation plans and thought, “I would really like to go to Alpena.” Unless you have family in Alpena, Arkansas, I would be willing to guess that there are not many of you making plans to vacation in Alpena.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with Alpena. Not at all. In fact I would also guess that many of us have been to Alpena and enjoyed being there – even if we weren’t there for very long. You see, Alpena is on the way to Branson. It is right over the county line between Carroll and Boone County. Highway 412 and 62 connect in Alpena and it is just west of the junction with Highway 65 which leads to Branson.

What’s great about Alpena is that they know they are “on the way” to Branson. So there’s a few decent service stations in Alpena. There are restaurants in Alpena. And there are signs everywhere. Signs that point to Branson. You can buy your tickets and take care of reservations in Alpena before you get to Branson. It is really the first sign of what Branson is going to be like for the person on the way to Branson.

I love the church. I love this church. It’s great. But the church isn’t the final destination “on the way” in life. It’s a sign. It’s the first sign of how things are going to be in the kingdom. In the church you live under God’s kingdom rule, you can even enjoy the benefits and blessings of God’s rule, but the church itself is not the whole kingdom of God. The church is a people who are “on the way” to the kingdom.

These patterns are patterns of people who are pointing toward the reign of God.

  • Following God’s Call
  • Being Shaped by Scripture
  • Taking Risks for the Sake of the Gospel
  • Living Out God’s Intent for the World
  • Worshipping God for Sake of the World
  • Depending on God’s Spirit

    And now a seventh pattern that in many ways combines all of the other six: We are “Pointing Toward the Reign of God.” We are a people who are waiting for that which is eternal. We know that nothing here lasts. We know that this life is not all we were meant to be. We pray “Maranatha!” – which means “Come soon Lord Jesus!” It’s the first-century Aramaic way of saying “Are we there yet?”

    Like Paul and his old clay jar image, we are pointing toward – as we look ahead to – something greater on the way . . .

    2 Corinthians 4:17-18 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

    We know that something better is yet to come. And we are “on the way” to it. Even as it is breaking into our world. And yet, as much as I believe this I have to admit that I sometimes get settled into this world and the rules and kingdoms of this world – even though they are not eternal.
    What are we looking for? What are we seeking? Are we comfortable with the kingdom of this world? Are we trying to secure our life here or are we looking for something more. Three questions for us to consider:
    To what reign do we give our allegiance? There is an insurgency in creation that resists the rightful rule of God. It is easy for us to submit to the reign of temporary powers.

    What kingdom do we seek? Are we attempting to build the kingdom of God in our image or according to our plans, or do we surrender ourselves as living stones to be built and changed by the Lord who establishes his rule?

    Are we on the way or settled in? We used to sing the song “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing thru.” Well, the rent certainly went up! I feel as though I may have broke down during my passing thru and just settled in.

    Signs of the Coming Reign of God
    Whose kingdom do we live in? To what rule do we bend our knee in allegiance? Are we on the way to God’s kingdom, or have we stopped along the way and set up residence there? Being faithful to God’s mission means being happy about the fact that our life here is not all we have. It means taking delight in the fact that we are not the final destination (Branson) but we, the church, are “on the way” to the kingdom. We should be the first sign of what the kingdom will be like, but we are eagerly waiting for that which is not yet to be revealed.

    And that means we are going to have to change – like Zacchaeus. [Read text of Luke 19]
    [I am thankful to Paul Clark and Jeff Christian for sharing their unpublished manuscript “For the Sake of the World.” Some of the material below has been borrowed from that work.]

    Zacchaeus saw where he had comprised his life by joining up with those who lived opposite to God kingly reign. He was invested in the rule of Rome. Yet, after seeing Jesus, Zacchaeus allows God’s radical grace to radically change his life. He even offered to give half his possessions to the poor and give a generous restitution to anyone he may have cheated. Personally, domestically, socially, and economically, Zacchaeus’ life is realigning with God’s reign. The power of Jesus’ good news to Zacchaues is amazing!

    And his power to change our lives is equally amazing. The question that is left for us today is this, Will God’s reign change us? Will we allow Jesus’ to come into our house today? Did you notice what the kingdom is like. Jesus does come to the house of the broken and outcast. He does come to the house of those who’ve invested in other powers. And he brings salvation. And notice how Zacchaeus changes!
    If we welcome Jesus to our house when he invites himself in, it will change us too.
    God’s reign in our life will change us personally. It is no longer me-myself-and I. I open my life to God and give him the control.
    God’s reign will change us socially. We now find ourselves connected with a family.
    God’s reign will change us economically. Our total life, our possessions, the every day things of our life, are redeemed and used for God’s kingdom good and glory. God’s in-breaking reign has come to the world and people are changed by it.

    The Invitation comes from Jesus. He is inviting himself into your home. Jesus wants to come to your house! Will you welcome him?

    Chris Benjamin

    West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
    Morning Sermon, 9 April 2006

    Treasure in Clay Jars
    Lesson Eight: Pattern 7 – April 9, 2006
    “Pointing Toward the Reign of God”

    What is this lesson all about?

      We have focused on the reign of God and the part we play in receiving and announcing his kingdom. The church is an instrument or agent serving God’s reign, and our changed lives are a sign that a new master is taking over the world. While life in Christ is not the total fulfillment of God’s reign, the blessings we enjoy are a foretaste of how wonderful it will be when all of creation honors God as king.

    Getting Started:

    1. What is the first sign that it is time for a new car?
    2. Have you ever made a trip and dealt with the “Are We There Yet?” problem? How do you help the impatient travelers? What signs do you look for and point out to indicate that “You are almost there!”
    3. What images come to mind when you think of a king? How does that affect the way you view God as a king? How does that affect the way you think of the kingdom of God?

    Searching the Word:

    1. Read I Peter 2:4-12 aloud.

    2. How do you explain all the references to rocks in this passage?
      • v. 6 quotes Isaiah 28:16, a warning to the Israelites that God was about to level their houses of lies and build a new house of faith.
      • v. 7 quotes Psalm 118:22, a passage that talks about how great it is when God re-builds his house. (Read 118:22-24 to include a familiar verse in context.)
      • v. 8 quotes Isaiah 8:14, which says that both houses of Israel will stumble when they face a holy God.
      • So how is Jesus like the rocks described in the Old Testament? See verse 4.
      • How do Christians relate to Jesus the rock? See verse 5.

    Making It Real: Exploration and Response

    1. Our lives are a sign that God reigns. What kind of transformation is taking place in our lives, according to this passage? See verses 5, 9, & 11
      • What do these changes show non-Christians about the reign of God in our lives?
      • At a practical level, how can people tell that God is our king?
      • When have you seen someone’s life demonstrate that God is in control?
      • How well does your life proclaim that God reigns? What would increase or improve your testimony?

    2. Our lives are agents and instruments of God’s reign. What are some ways that our lives are tools for God’s reign, according to this reading? What are we doing to support his reign?
      • 5 – We are his priests
      • 9 – we declare his praises
      • 12 – our good deeds cause others to praise God
      • Who is the builder of God’s house? What is our role in building the kingdom?
      • I Peter suggests that we are the raw materials. We make ourselves available for the builder to use at his pleasure.
      • Sometimes we refer to serving God as “building his kingdom.” How would it change our faith if we viewed God’s kingdom as a movement we participate in rather than something we build? How would we be different if we viewed it as a movement that takes hold of us?
      • If God is the builder and we are simply the stones, why should we invest our time and energy in “church work”? Why is our service important?
      • What is one way you are serving God that is a positive contribution to the kingdom?

    3. Our lives are a foretaste of God’s reign. What are some ways the work of God incomplete in us, according to I Peter?
      • 5 – still under construction
      • 12 – friends are not yet glorifying God
      • What are some ways that our lives already show how wonderful it is to honor God as king? See verse 9-10.
      • What are some blessings you enjoy because of Christ?
      • If God were not king of your life, how would you be poorer?
      • What are some ways you are serving God’s reign by intentionally helping others to honor him as king?

    4. When are some times that you can see God reigning in the world or in your life? When are some times that it is difficult to tell that God is in charge?
      • What do you look forward to the most about Heaven?
      • What keeps people from recognizing God’s work in the world?
      • What helps non-Christians see the reign of God?
    Kid-Friendly Activity

      Bring something the kids can build into a tower or building – rocks, Legos, blocks, Jenga blocks, Hershey bars, 3x5 cards, etc.

      Divide into two teams and see who can build the tallest tower.

      Read I Peter 2:4-5 aloud.

      How are we like building blocks in the hand of God?

    Chris Benjamin

    West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
    Morning Sermon, 9 April 2006

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