The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the Gospel.
In Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, God fulfilled the promise of his age-old covenant with Abraham’s family to save this tragically messed up world. There is a day coming when the power that raised Jesus from the dead will transform all creation, purifying and preserving forever everything that is good in it – and destroying forever everything that is harmful. Those who belong to Christ and his church see foretastes of that day in this age by the power of the Holy Spirit.
God himself will reign over all and in all; nothing that opposes him or his loving intention for creation will endure. In Christ, however, we not only discover that we are objects of God’s love, we also discover our persistent bent to fight against God and abuse our neighbor. Our thinking, our emotions and our wills are all corrupted by desire, pride, fear and selfishness. The bad news, then, is that we are all part of the problem that God is going to solve when he crushes evil and transforms the world. Apart from Christ, our sinfulness – for that is the best word to describe our condition – our sinfulness would mean our ruin. The good news is that God has also made a way for sinful people to inherit the coming kingdom and experience a taste of it even now. The same Jesus who will usher in the age to come is also the door to entering that age. Who will be delivered by the power of Christ’s death and resurrection? Those who have faith in Christ, whom God gave as the means of our salvation. Who are those who have faith in Christ? Those who trust him enough to join themselves to him and live their lives in him.
The most important thing that you can take away from this visit, then, is the knowledge that you are invited to follow Jesus Christ in his church, trust him in all circumstances and pin your hopes on his victory over sin and death.
Some aspects of living as a disciple include:
Belong: Join yourself with other Christians and participate in Christ’s church.
Being a Christian is not a solitary endeavor. To a large degree, you will learn how to be a Christian by being around other faithful Christians. Look for a church to guide you, and in which you can worship and serve God. Remember that no church is perfect and no Christian is infallible, so weigh everything you’re taught, hold on to the good and toss aside everything else. Every local group of Christians is slightly different. Find a church that suits your personality, is faithful to God and challenges you to grow as a Christian.
The Church exists to worship God, to hear and proclaim his saving word to Christians and non-Christians alike and to equip and strengthen Christians to live faithful lives. God gives us our brothers in sisters in Christ so that we can learn from them, but also so that we can love others as Christ loved us.
The Christian sacrament of baptism signifies, among other things, that you are united to Jesus Christ and a member of his household on earth. The Christian sacrament of Communion signifies our unity in and ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ. God has given us these two sacraments – one of beginning in Christ and one of continuing in him – as ordinary means of his grace in our lives.
Ask God to lead you to the right church for you, and then don’t give up until you find it. And when you commit yourself to a church group, submit yourself to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Understand the covenant that you are entering, and be willing to live by it.
Learn: Study the Bible. Listen to the word proclaimed. Read Christian literature.
Christians believe that God gave us the Bible to reveal himself to us, to guide the church in its common life and to be the standard against we measure our beliefs and actions.
The Bible was written by many different people in many different situations over a period of 2000 years. It contains many different kinds of literature originally written for different purposes. Each author, of course, has his own point of view. The newest parts of the Bible are themselves about 2000 years old. And while the various books of the Bible have a long and complex human history, each part contributes to the one great story of God. In a way, the Bible is the written record of God’s dealings with humanity and its climax is the story of Jesus. God reveals himself to us now through the writings of a particular set of first-generation Christians and their Jewish forebears, each of whom witnesses to God’s actions in history from his own unique perspective in the history of God’s people.
Taken together, the books of the Bible form one great story-line from the creation of the world to the final coming of the kingdom of life and peace. Some of the great events in that grand narrative include the call of Abraham and his family, the exodus from Egypt under Moses, the giving of the Law at Sinai, the establishment of Jerusalem temple with its way of worship, and life in the land of promise under prophets and kings. The story of Jesus includes the story of his birth, baptism, temptation, preaching of the kingdom, casting out demons, healing the sick, and working miracles. These acts of power are previews of the age to come. Jesus’ story also includes his teaching, his humble life, his announcing forgiveness and reconciliation to sinners and his suffering under the hands of evildoers. His sacrificial life culminated in his death and his works of power culminated in his resurrection from the dead. After he rose from the dead, the Holy Spirit formed the church which bears his name. He will come again to bring this age to a close and unveil the life and peace of the age to come. The Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed are summations of this great story that we recite together when we worship.
Sometimes, it’s hard to understand what sections of the Bible mean or why they’re important. One of the most important steps in understanding any part of the Bible is to understand where it fits in the larger story. Try to grasp the big picture before dwelling on details. As you begin to become familiar with the Bible, let each author speak for himself. What did this author mean to say to his particular generation of God’s people? Let each author speak his own unique message; don’t try to mesh together parts of the Bible in ways they were not meant to mesh. A good study guide can help you understand the Bible. Both ancient and modern Christian writers can also be helpful as you think about what it means to be a Christian. And listen to good preaching. God works through the proclamation of his word. Remember, though, that no study guide, commentary, teacher or preacher has the authority of the Bible itself. Ask God to help you grow in your knowledge and understanding of the Bible. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything. Take hold of the things that you do understand and apply them to your life. Always be willing to grow and change in your understanding of God and the Christian life as you come to understand the Bible better.
Pray: Worship and talk to God.
Jesus teaches us that God hears our prayers. Through our faith in Christ, we have access to the very presence of God. Prayer, by the way, is not just a solitary endeavor. We pray with and for each other. In fact, the most important prayer that we pray – the one Jesus taught us – begins, “OUR Father.” It is a group prayer as well as an individual prayer. Worship that includes singing and liturgy is also a form of praying together. Relax. You can use your own words and thoughts whenever you talk to God, or you can use prayers that others have written. Asking, thanking, trusting, praising, confessing, questioning: these are all part of prayer. Reciting the word and works of God can be prayer. The book of Psalms is the “prayer book of the Bible,” but other parts of the Bible can be the source of prayer as well. In fact, when your read your Bible, you should not only ask yourself, “What does this mean I should believe” but “What does this mean I should pray?” There are no “right” words to pray. God welcomes your prayers. Remember that God is bigger than your experience of him right now, and the prayer is not solely about feelings. Prayer is a way of expressing your faith and growing in it at the same time. Growing in prayer is a lifetime journey. Keep at it; don’t give up.
Grow: Begin to take concrete steps that display your trust in Jesus.
With God’s help, and the support of your brothers and sisters in Christ, begin to reform your life so that it is more consistent with what God wants for you and for the world. Fill your life more completely with the things of God and begin to set aside practices and habits that take you away from God. Tell others about your faith. Do good for others because Jesus loves you. Trust God to be with you through difficult circumstances. Find a role for yourself to play in the life of your church. Learn to be generous to those in need and to support God’s work with your material possessions. Be a giver, not just a taker.
The power of sin is strong and you will not make these changes on your own. Take these steps in faith that you belong to Jesus Christ by God’s grace alone and that God is working in you through the power of the Holy Spirit. Your place among God’s people and your transformation into a more Christ-like person are both ultimately the work of God.
God bless you on the journey with Jesus.