Alternate Life, 4-sermon series

by Tim Isbell  8/2011

This web page summarizes a 4-sermon series on the Alternate Life. Before you dive into the preaching notes for this particular 4-sermon series, I suggest that you pop up one level and read through the overview of the collection of all the sermons in this general area. You will find them at Alternate Life Collection.

Now, back to this particular 4-sermon series: The Alternate Life. You can download sermon notes of each sermon by clicking on its title below.

Lectionary preachers: Since the first two sermons in this series come from Daniel, one good fit to the calendar is to begin the series somewhere late in Year B Ordinary Time and let it go into Advent. I've annotated each sermon with the best lectionary connections to enable you to package it into other times.

Below you will find a synopsis of each sermon. Just click the sermon title to go to a Google Doc version of the complete notes for that sermon. From your browser, you can print or download the file in various formats (Word, RTF, or PDF). If you use Word 2007 or newer, downloading in the Word format works fine. If you use an earlier version of Word you may need to download the sermon notes in the RTF format, which you can then open in Word 2003 and earlier versions.

At the end of each sermon-notes file is a box containing links to "Other resources for this sermon." There you will find:

  • Google Slides file (~ PowerPoint file) for almost all sermons.
  • Handout file for each sermon.
  • And a link to the audio file for the first time I preached the sermon.

Alternate Life 4-sermon series

This invites people into the Alternate Life lived out as part of a local Fellowship of Believers, invariably located at the core of a local church. It encourages living in this world, but fully aware that our real citizenship is in another kingdom: The Kingdom of God. The series uses 1) the story of the of Daniel (Old Testament) living an Alternate Life in Babylon, 2) two dreams where God lays out the roadmap for the trajectory of God's Reign, 3) Jesus' recurrent teachings indicating that the Kingdom of God is here (not just coming sometime in the future), and 4) the stories of the New Testament church living out this Kingdom life leading to the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21. The arc of the series encourages people to live the Alternate Life today while still residing in a postal address of this world.

Alternate Life 1. The Gospel in Daniel's Life

Daniel 1, 3, 4.

Daniel chapters 1-6 tell exciting stories about how the political prisoners Daniel and his Hebrew peers lived in a very strange and dangerous country. These are examples of Fellowship people living at a postal address in a kingdom of this world, but always remembering that their true citizenship is in God's Fellowship of Believers. While they worked for the good of their captors, the firmly believed that when the dust settles at the end of time God’s Kingdom will remain but all other kingdoms will disappear. 

Daniel & friends hungered for holiness and pursued it faithfully. They prayed a lot. They trusted God, even when facing death. In times of triumph they did not get “full of themselves,” but instead thanked God for taking care of them.

The entire biblical story is about God saving us out of the kingdoms of this world and gathering us to live as citizens of The Alternate Kingdom. God draws us into little Fellowships of Believers where he nurtures us to where we bless the people still living in the kingdoms of this world.

Salvation is bigger than God forgiving our sin; it is moving our citizenship from a kingdom of this world into God’s Peaceable Reign. 

Alternate Life 2. The Gospel in Daniel's Dreams

Daniel 2, 7.  (RCL Year B Proper 29, All Saints) 

This second sermon takes a look at two dreams that appear in the book of Daniel. In chapter 2, God reveals the future to the pagan King Nebuchadnezzar in a dream. This is the dream that essentially predicts the fall of Babylonia, followed by the Medo-Persian empire, then Greece, and finally Rome. In Nebuchadnezzar's dream, a rock knocks a statue down and crushes it to pieces that the wind blows away. Daniel interprets this in Dan 2.35, “the rock that knocked the statue down became a great mountain that covered the whole earth.”  This rock is Jesus Christ, who comes along about 600 years later. It was just a humble stone when God split it off of a mountain, but within decades of when it hit the statue, Rome began crumbling. The rock gathered mass like a snowball rolling down a hill – and it is still rolling.

In chapter 7 God gives Daniel a very parallel dream. In this one, God reveals more of the future to the Hebrew Daniel, letting him see deeper into the coming fall of Rome, even to the final judgment of the kingdoms of this world.

It seems like a long-shot that the Reign of God will eventually be the only kingdom left standing – until we realize that it also seemed like a long shot to Nebuchadnezzar (Babylonia) and Cyrus (Medo-Persian) and Alexander the Great (Greece) and the Caesars (Rome) that their dynasties would ever lose their power. But they all did.  And so will those that seem so powerful today - including the United States, China, and India.  Scripture is clear; only God's Reign will stand forever.

God’s Peaceable Reign, of which Daniel and his Hebrew peers were an early part, still exists today as a vast grouping of little Fellowships of Believers all over the world. You may ask, what holds the Reign of God together?  It’s not a constitution, a bill of rights, a parliament or Congress, or a strong military. The glue that holds the Reign of God together is the Spirit of Jesus.

One more big idea in all this. Regardless of our status in a kingdom of this world, we can be full citizens in God’s Kingdom – even more so than Daniel. Salvation is not a lucky charm to help God's people prosper in the kingdoms of this world.  Salvation is much more than agreeing to believe some facts about Jesus, much more than forgiveness from personal sin, much more than a pleasant after-life. Salvation is God drawing people out of the kingdoms of this world and regrouping them into little Fellowships that anchor local churches that together are growing into God's mountain. And salvation is about Fellowship people living out holiness in plain view of their friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors. Today this full salvation is available to everyone everywhere.

Alternate Life 3. Jesus and the Fellowship

Luke 17.20-21, Colossians 1.11-14 (RCL Year C, Proper 10 and Year C, Reign of Christ). 

One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 17.20-21)

It is now clear that Jesus’ first coming 2000 years ago was never intended to immediately destroy all man-made kingdoms.  People of faith realize that Jesus of Nazareth planted the seed of God’s Reign in the Gentile world.  The Bible also says that Jesus will come a second time, and then the kingdoms of this world will be destroyed.

But you and I cannot, on our own, decide to move our citizenships out of the kingdoms of this world and into the Kingdom of God any more than the Israelites could, on their own, leave their life of slavery in Egypt to enjoy a peaceable existence in God’s Promise Land.  Like the Israelites, we lack the resources to redeem ourselves and reestablish new lives in a better place.  We need a savior to set us free, and that is Jesus Christ.  He does it through his death on the cross, paying the price for our redemption.  And we need his Spirit living inside us and leading us to our place in God’s Peaceable Reign.  The evidence that he has the power to do this is the resurrection.

At the starting point of the Christian church, Peter preached a salvation message to people gathered in Jerusalem.  They listened, the Holy Spirit worked, the people were convicted of their sin and wanted to change. So they asked, “what next?”  In Acts 2.38-39 Peter responds, "Repent, get baptized, and join a Fellowship of Believers."  That day the Holy Spirit launched the Alternate Kingdom in Jerusalem, and it soon spread throughout the world.  Jesus told his disciples this would happen, but when it did they didn’t grasp the concept or the scope.

Colossians 1:11-14 describes the characteristics of Fellowship life:  "We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.  For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins."

Fellowship people gather regularly to joyfully worship Jesus Christ, our Lord.  This makes a very political statement.  It says to God and anyone who is looking on, that our ultimate allegiance is not to our country of origin or our country of current residence, but it is in God’s Peaceable Reign.  In many parts of the world, this is very threatening to the government – so much so that they persecute and even kill Fellowship people.

We live an alternate morality - valuing sexual purity, wholesome vocabulary, modest dress.

We practice forgiveness - as opposed to getting even, retaliation, or revenge.

We practice open table fellowships -  inviting all kinds of people to share at our table.  We lift this up when we share the Lord’s Supper, and every time we have a meal at church or open our apartments/homes for people to share our food.

We practice an alternate economics - spending money differently, giving 10% away for a start.

We give to people in need - both inside and outside God’s Kingdom.

We work for justice - not because “every person is created equal” but because our Lord died to save every person.

God’s invites every person to a place of importance in his Reign.

Alternate Life 4. Fellowship of Believers in this World's Kingdoms

2 Corinthians 3.1-13.  (RCL Year B, 8 Epiphany).

Consider for a moment the concept of Internal and External goals. For most of us jogging is a means to an external goal: better health. Letting a child play video games if they get their homework done is also an external goal. This is useful if it leads the child to fall in love with learning itself, at which time the child is led by a goal internal to the learning process itself.

Too much evangelism is driven by external goals such as tallying decisions for Jesus Christ, baptisms, and attendance. One of Satan’s best strategies is getting churches to use external goals and guilt to motivate parishioners in evangelism. God wants us to share the Good News, but with internal ends. God’s design is for Christians to live in ordinary social relationships with friends, relatives, associates and neighbors - and to do this in creative ways. God will certainly bless Christians who do this – maybe with numbers.

Evangelism is NOT primarily…

  • Communicating the basic elements of the gospel that a person must believe.
  • Using the world’s sales and marketing strategies to “win” converts like companies win customers.
  • An intellectual defense of the gospel.
  • Providing a template someone can pray to become a Christian.
  • Leading people into some sort of emotional experience.
  • Translating the gospel into terms easier for non-religious people to understand.
  • Transmitting God’s story to someone.
  • Adjusting Christian practices for the sake of wider acceptance.

God’s purpose in history is NOT primarily the creation of holy individuals. It is the creation of Fellowships of Believers in every dark and light corner of the earth, and connecting these together by the Holy Spirit into the Kingdom of God on earth. The very existence of this social structure is a witness in the form of a living letter from God to the people in the kingdoms of this world (2 Corinthians 3.1-3).

Evangelism IS…

Inviting people into a story with a future that the Spirit of Jesus offers, in the 1st installment, in this life.

The work of “saints” who have taken up the way of the cross - Fellowship people in whose lives the gospel is visible.

Christians living ordinary social lives – but living them differently AND strategically transparently. Differently such as in practicing forgiveness, cross-cultural inclusion, sharing of material goods, recognizing all people as gifted & valuable to God, worshiping and serving the Lord, and so on. Some of these (at least) will seem “odd” to people accustomed to living in the kingdoms of this world – but they’re not mysterious.  Friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors notice these differences. Strategically transparently, meaning Fellowship people do “ordinary social things differently” - that is “for Jesus sake” - but in culturally sensitive ways. For example, implementing the Alternate Life in North America looks different from living this life in Iran.  The Spirit of Jesus lives this Alternate Life through his Fellowship people in ways appropriate to the context he put us in. By this I mean the Spirit leads us to live as shrewdly as serpents and at the same time as innocent as doves (Matthew 10.16). 

The central logic of evangelism is Christians living in “ordinary nonconformity." We don’t do this so much as servants of God or Jesus.  We do it more in the context of John 15.16, where Jesus says to his close followers: "I no longer call you slaves because a master doesn't confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends since I have told you everything the Father told me."

Important markers of evangelistic practice

Presence.  We cannot toss God’s good news at someone from a distance. God could have sent us an email, or called us on the phone, or used Skype – but he didn't. He took the initiative to personally come to earth in bodily form.  He didn't throw information or truth at us; he lived it with us. Fellowship people are infected with the Spirit of Jesus for the very purpose of doing the same things in our context. The incarnation shows that God prefers to touch the world through a flesh and blood Body of Christ. In today’s world, that’s you and me.

Patience.  Many factors work against patience, including wealth which we use as a shortcut to getting what we want now. When we see someone in need it is much easier just to write a check. It's quicker, more efficient, it seems like it will produce faster results. But it is not Jesus way. His way is to be personally present with people in need, and patient with them. Fellowship people understand this and live it out.

Courage.  Such as Daniel in lion’s den, such as the apostles in Acts.

Humility.  Fellowship people show restraint in the use of power – even in the middle of injustice. We like to sound believable beyond a reasonable doubt, so compelling that others have to believe us. But such evangelism is never beautiful.  Beauty cannot be proved, only offered.  God’s concept is not outstretched arms grasping for a hug from one who is trying to pull away.  It’s like a door left open, implying that others are welcome to come on in. 

This 4th sermon in the series is also part of my collection of Ordinary Practice Evangelism sermons.

 So, here’s God’s strategy for us:

1. Live as part of a Fellowship of Believers. God never intended Christians to live in isolation, but to gather into Fellowships and anchor local churches. It is his design for our lives in this world.

2. Live ordinary lives differently. Fellowship people realize that they are God’s living “letter” to the world. 2 Cor 3:3 says: "Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts"

3. Live ordinary lives transparently. "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

4. Take the initiative to leave your context. It's the core message of the incarnation of Jesus. Take the initiative to go and serve needy people, people who are poor, sick, special needs, elderly, alien, lonely, outcast. When you get there, “Call on the name of the Lord” to bless them.


Tim (edited with Grammarly)

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