Advancing the Kingdom: God’s Work Behind the Scenes

October 17, 2017

Acts 25:1-27 In  Acts 25, God’s work is not mentioned directly, even though Paul was going through difficult times, but God’s purpose was advanced. Sometimes in our difficult times, God is working behind the scenes, and here are some themes to think about.

  • The Reality of Difficult Places – Paul was being faithful, yet he was suffering injustice and accusation. Sometimes, we are in difficulty because of faithfulness, because of others’ evil toward us, or because of our own choices.
  • Questions Raised in Difficult Places – When we are in hard times, we may ask: How will I get through this? What do we want God to do, and what does God want to do? What do we want to do, and what does God want us to do? What is going on spiritually, and how might God’s Kingdom be advanced?
  • What Doesn’t Change in Difficult Places – Just like turning the lights off in a room doesn’t change where things are just because you can’t see them, difficult times don’t change certain things. The nature and purpose of God, the truth and content of the Gospel message, and our call and identity in Jesus don’t change in difficult places.
  • God’s Work in Difficult Places – God works (sometimes in discrete ways) to fulfill His promises and further His Kingdom purpose. He may do this even working through non-believers unbeknownst to them, and He may work with, through, or in spite of our decisions.
  • Our Faithfulness in Difficult Places – Our call is to partner with God in difficult places in order to realize the potential in these times, be people of integrity, sense what is happening spiritually, and demonstrate / share Christ with others.

How might God be working behind the scenes in your life? What does faithfulness to Him look like for you at this time?

 

 

 



Advancing the Kingdom Through the Church: Kingdom Opposition and Defense

October 10, 2017

Acts 24:1-27  What are some ways you have faced opposition? More specifically, how has the advance of God’s reign in your life been opposed? Why might it be important to defend Kingdom advance in the face of opposition in our lives, homes, church, and world? This passage helps us think about opposition to Kingdom advance and about our response.

As we look at verses 1-9, we hear opposition make its case. There is opposition to the Christian faith; opposition to Kingdom advance in lives, homes, and churches; and opposition to individuals trying to advance the reign of God. When that opposition arises, it often “puts its best foot forward” and casts itself in a positive light, but the way it works is through outright lies, distorted facts, and questioning God. As we move to verses 10-21, we discover our defense should be ready. A good Kingdom defense is grounded in the truth, challenges lies, and presents basic elements of the Gospel and the Christian life. Finally, in verses 22-27, we find that our defense of the Kingdom in the face of opposition is all about the Kingdom. Paul could have gotten bitter or reacted negatively to the injustice of his prolonged ordeal, but instead he seized the opportunity to share Christ.     We are called to see prolonged challenge as an opportunity as well. As we said already, we see that we need to make the truth of Christian faith clear in a way that does not compromise the Gospel and resonates with the place of spiritual need in our hearers. And, a faithful defense of the faith may not produce repentance even when we present it clearly.

What does opposition to the Kingdom look like in your life? Will you make your response to it a matter of serious prayer?

 



Advancing the Kingdom Through the Church – Standing for the Light in Dark Places

October 03, 2017

 
Acts 22:30-23:35  Kingdom advance is sometimes typified as the light of God advancing into spiritual darkness, and in these verses, we hear the call to stand for the light in the midst of darkness.

Just like in our passage, sometimes, the darkness is opposition to the advance of the Kingdom in your life, home, church, and world. Opposition may be subtle or overt and gentle or fierce. It may come from individuals or groups and may come from the irreligious or the  religious. What does the opposition look like for you? Opposition serves as an opportunity for refinement, as a chance to shine Jesus’ truth, and a chance to glorify God. Other dark places include discouragement, doubt, delay, detours, danger, uncertainty, loneliness, false beliefs, pagan culture, and the darkness of lost people who need Jesus. Like Paul, we need the Lord’s presence and provision in our dark places. His presence may come through His Spirit, His Word, and His people, and it may serve to encourage us and / or to admonish us to continue in faithfulness. How can you be His presence in others’ lives? How about His provision? That provision can be protection, light and truth, or simply a moving of the Lord to advance His purpose in and through us.

If we walk through the main section of this passage backward, here is what we find. In Paul’s relocation, we find the theme of God’s Kingdom purpose, and we are reminded that He has a purpose for us. In the Lord’s presence and provision, we are reminded that the Lord wants to provide the means of encouraging us and furthering His light in and through our lives. In Paul’s testimony, we are reminded of how that light comes into darkness – the truth, person, and work of Jesus.

 



Advancing the Kingdom Through the Church – Light Into the Darkness

September 26, 2017

 
Acts 21:27-22:29  Kingdom advance is sometimes typified in terms of the light of God advancing into spiritual darkness, and in these verses, we see interaction between light and darkness.
 

Exploring the Darkness – The darkness looks like hatred, confusion, and missing the truth of God and being lost. That darkness comes from social dynamics that take precedence over Godliness, self-righteousness, mis-reading or not knowing God’s Word, and abandoning the knowledge of God for one’s own desires.

 

The Light of Kingdom Truth – We may observe that it is possible to live life without God, to miss God when we think we have Him, and to be passionately wrong about self and God. However, when we come face-to-face with Jesus and His truth, we have a choice of response, and if we follow Christ, we find a new Lord, purpose, direction, and power.

 

Kingdom Advancing Principles – Let’s note some principles for advancing the Kingdom.

  • It’s all About Jesus – What Paul shared and why he shared it was all about Jesus.
  • Connecting with similarities may get you their ear, but it may still not win people over.
  • Hate and self-defense don’t need truth’s light and may use misinformation, lies, and people’s values, fears, and passions to get its way.
  • Help and protection for Kingdom advance may come from unlikely places.

 

A Caution for Us – We need to take another step here, because people present us with new, Bible-contradicting ideas and Gospel-changing ideas today. Notice, the Jews should have been open to Paul’s testimony because their Bible had predicted a new covenant, a Messiah, and reaching the Gentiles. The New Testament does not promise us another covenant past Jesus or a different or updated Gospel or Jesus. So, we cannot be open to new Gospels that are, as Galatians says, no Gospel at all.

 



Advancing the Kingdom Through the Church – Next Steps in the Journey

September 19, 2017

 
Acts 21:1-26  Where are you in your journey with the Lord? Is it an easy season or a difficult one? How are things going in your effort to seek the Kingdom in your life, home, church, and world? In this sort of transitional chapter, we see some things in Paul’s next steps that might help us in ours.
 

Blessings of God’s Family –

We see Paul finding many blessings through God’s family along the way. Think about times we you blessed by God’s family, and what life and Kingdom pursuit might look like if we had and provided these blessings – deep concern, prayer partners, hospitality, and the use of spiritual gifts in service.
 

Warnings and Determination –

We also see the tension between warnings given by God’s people and Paul’s determination to be obedient to God’s plan regardless of difficulties. Through discernment, the Spirit, and the Word, warnings may come to us in our own heart or through others. At that time, we have to determine how much is from God and how much is not. And, we have to find a way to be obedient. Also, we have to support obedience in others even when obedience will lead down a difficult path.
 

Progress Reports, Judgment Calls, and Adjustments (17-26) –

Although whether or not Paul mis-stepped is a matter of debate, the issue included the need for unity in the church, and one thing that become apparent is that ministry success does not eliminate complications, misunderstandings, and miscommunications. We might bring this into our time by realizing there are disputable differences in worship style, tradition, and some Christian practice. We need to make sure disunity, division, and harm to the mission does not take root, while making sure we do not make disputable things how we determine if someone is or is not a Christian.

 



Advancing the Kingdom Through the Church – Caring for the Church (3)

September 12, 2017

Acts 20:28-38  In the first two installments looking at Acts 20, we discovered various elements of caring for the church, and now we find several aspects of pastoral work specifically.

 

Ministry That is Multi-Faceted and Very Serious

– We find that pastoral work involves wise counsel, administrative oversight and direction, leading, feeding, and                protecting – as revealed by the three terms used for this work / office. These terms are elder, overseer, and pastor. We also find the work is very serious because the flock belongs to God and was purchased with a very high price. In part, this ministry is a ministry of keeping watch to guard the church and its people from dangers to our faith, Christian life, teaching, and witness.

Ministry of Trust and Example

– This work has to be supported and empowered by God, and it must be biblical in nature. This calls us to pray that God will keep our pastors full of the Word and Holy Spirit power. Other examples for pastors are found earlier in the      chapter, but the example here is one of keeping money in its proper place. Looking further in Scripture, we find that hard work, good stewardship, and generosity are not just requirements for pastors but for all Christians.

Ministry That can Produce Strong Relationships

– The parting of Paul and the Ephesian elders was very emotional, and it leads me to ask what kind of depth of connection these men had and what great things Christ had done in their lives that they would be so attached to the one who had brought them to Jesus. What kind of relationships should pastors have with members and key leaders?
What things help or hinder those relationships?

 

As you think about pastoral ministry and also the ministry of investing in others given to you by God, pray for faithfulness and blessing.

 



Advancing the Kingdom Through the Church – Caring for the Church (2)

September 05, 2017

 
Acts 20:17-27  If the church is Christ’s instrument of advancing His Kingdom, caring for the church is necessary for strong Kingdom work, but you also have a personal ministry in your life setting. Here is some of what our Kingdom service should look like.

 

Ministry That is Steadfast –

Steadfast character, steadfast connection to the Holy Spirit, and steadfast commitment. In your realm of Kingdom influence (home, church, job, friends, etc.) you have a purpose of furthering the Kingdom. Is your character, connection with the Spirit, and commitment steadfast? What are the gaps?

 

Ministry of Integrity –

This is integrity with the message, making sure we share the whole Gospel, God’s intention for Christian life, and what is helpful for others to come to and honor the Lord. It is also integrity to be consistent in the public and private realms of life, as well as treating all people as objects of God’s love.

 

Ministry of Purpose and Suffering –

What is your purpose, your specific way of furthering the Kingdom? Also, are you prepared to live out that purpose in spite of outside pressures and inner strain as you experience a burden for God’s Kingdom work?

 

Do you realize that, within the church and outside the church, you have a God-given ministry of seeking the Kingdom? Is it a ministry of steadfastness, integrity, and purpose in spite of suffering? What are the strong points? What are the gaps? Would you make these things a matter of reflection and prayer?

 



Advancing the Kingdom Through the Church – Caring for the Church

August 29, 2017

Acts 20:1-16

If Jesus wants to reign more fully in our lives, homes, church, and world, what is needed, and how can addressing those needs advance the reign of Jesus? If the church is Christ’s instrument of advancing His Kingdom, does it not make sense that caring for the church is necessary for strong Kingdom work? In Acts 20, we find examples of caring for the church.

One way we care for the church is through meeting needs of various kinds (vv. 1-6, 13-16). There is the ministry of encouragement in the face of challenges to our Christian lives, the ministry of correction in the face of error and sin, and the ministry of benevolence in the face of material need (Luke omits that Paul was collecting an offering for the Jerusalem church). How can you meet needs in a way that furthers the Kingdom? Caring for the church is a ministry of availability and inconvenience. The question is what’s needed where and by whom to advance the Kingdom. Notice the several ways in this chapter that those serving are willing to be inconvenienced in order to be available to God and His people. Are you willing to be inconvenienced to further the Kingdom? Caring for the church also happens through      exhortation (vv. 7-12). God’s truth comes through God’s people for Kingdom advance and God’s glory as believers are sharpened in their walk. Exhortation is crucial, must be empowered by God, and happens best in a context of church family worship and fellowship. Are you open to exhortation to sharpen you? Are you speaking God’s truth at appropriate times?

If the church is to be an effective agent of God’s Kingdom, it has to be cared for in various ways in God’s power and even when it is inconvenient.

 



Advancing the Kingdom Through the Church – How Much Difference?

August 22, 2017

Acts 19:17-41

 

In the first part of this chapter, we found the kind of faith that comes up short and true saving faith. When the people heard that Jesus’ name was not something anyone could use for their own purpose, they revered the name of Jesus, and further Kingdom influence occurred.

So, we see the Gospel is about moving people from darkness into God’s light in Jesus. Revering Jesus’ name means taking it and who Jesus is seriously, and it is connected to the Gospel call on people to repent of darkness and evil and come to saving faith. Part of that saving faith is sanctification, or eliminating un-Godliness from our lives. Then, we find there ought to be enough difference in people that it causes a stir. Think about the industries of darkness in our day. What would happen if so many Christians lived sanctified lives and so many lost people came to Christ that these business started failing because people were not wanting their services?

 

Kingdom Advancing Truths

  • The Kingdom is a matter of power.
  • The Gospel is specific – personal faith in Jesus.
  • Advancing the Kingdom requires the Spirit’s power
  • Some may sacrifice valuable things because of the Kingdom, while others resist Kingdom because threatens what they value.
  • Our faith may call us to remove from our lives things we value or used to value and things our culture values.
  • If it dishonors God, it doesn’t belong in my life.
  • Jesus is bigger and better than the things we have before we come to Him and the un-Godly things our world offers. Do we believe it and live like it?

 



Thinking About Racism

August 15, 2017

The past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, VA, have me thinking about this subject again. How has race impacted your life? To what extent is people’s race part of the lens through which you view and think about them? How have your view of others in relationship to their race changed over the years, and why?

I contend that racism and racially-based hatred have no place in the life of a Christian person. I also want to suggest that we, as Christians, need to examine our own lives for racism and work against it through actively loving others who are different than ourselves. On what do I base my claim that racism is not right? Revelation speaks of a multitude of saved Christians from every race. The crossing of racial lines in Acts clearly demonstrates the Gospel is open to all without respect to race. Galatians 3:28 asserts the equality of all in Christ. These are just a few reasons.

I am proud of our church in that it has extended itself beyond race in our efforts to diversify a few years back and our willingness to give our building to Mission Arlington for a Hispanic congregation recently. Keep up that good work, and reflect on how you and I can show love across lines of race and point others to Jesus.