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.

 



Advancing the Kingdom – Blessed Faithfulness

August 08, 2017

Acts 18:1-28  From time to time, we face challenges in our effort to advance the Kingdom in our lives, homes, church, and world. However, we can be encouraged because God wants to bless faithfulness, and faithfulness blesses others.

There is Blessing in and From Faithful Witness (vv. 1-8) –

We see that being faithful can mean continuing the work, can mean being strategic, can mean knowing when it is time to change direction, and is encouraging when we see people saved and changed for the better.
 

There is the Blessing of Encouragement (vv. 9-11) –

In the face of fear and discouragement, we can need encouragement to remain faithful, and this encouragement comes from the Lord. It can come from His Spirit, from worship, from the Word, and from other believers.
 

There is the Blessing of Freedom (vv. 12-17) –

Sometimes, the Lord moves to provide  freedom in the face of opposition so that the opposition does not gain traction and so we can continue in faithfulness in spite of opposition.
 

There is the Blessing of Kingdom Extension (vv. 2-3, 5, 18-28) –

The Kingdom can advance or be extended through shared work as believers partner together, through careful instruction as believers refine each other, and through edification as believers build each other up.
 
As we have highlighted this chapter, we have seen Kingdom passion, how faithfulness can be blessed and bless others, what faithfulness can look like, how God can encourage us and free us to serve Him, readiness to go and willingness to serve, building others up in Christ and bringing lost people to Jesus, cooperation among Christians, and excellence in ministry. What are the challenges to faithfulness in your setting, and what would Kingdom advancement look like?
How do you need encouragement?

 



Advancing the Kingdom – Turning the World Upside Down (Part 2)

August 01, 2017

 
Acts 17:1-34  The call to follow Jesus Christ in faith finds each person in a different place and gets varied responses. Last week, we mentioned three types of people – those who believe in God to some extent and need to faith in Jesus, those who don’t understand God like we do but need Jesus, and Christians who need to let our faith get a hold of us deeply. As we think about advancing the Kingdom, here are some things to think about.
 

Kingdom Advancing Principles

  • The Strategies – going where there is spiritual interest and moving beyond; sharing Jesus at the point of connection; the witness of Scripture, nature, and testimony; being observant and taking opportunities to share; realizing everyone starts at a different point spiritually, but the end goal is faith in Jesus.
  • The Challenges – moving those who believe in God toward Jesus, moving those with a different worldview toward Jesus, and helping people realize there is a higher Kingdom
  • The Risks – false charges, misunderstanding, mockery, and persecution

 

Kingdom Advancing Results

  • Our faith should be turning the world and us upside down. Actually, sin is what has turned things upside down, and Jesus sets them right. Are we letting our faith direct things in our lives, and is our faith, through us, setting things right in our world?
  • Different people will have different responses based, in part, on their heart for spiritual matters and their pre-conceived ideas.

Some need to let Jesus turn their upside down of pagan pursuits right side up into serving God in Jesus. Others need to let Jesus turn their upside down of works and ritual into the right side up of living faith in Jesus. Some need to let Jesus turn their upside down of faith without power into the right side up of a strong walk with the Lord.

 



Advancing the Kingdom – Turning the World Upside Down (Part 1)

July 25, 2017

Acts 17:1-34   What are your basic assumptions about God, spiritual matters, humanity, and how we relate to God, self, others, and our world? To what extend do your neighbors and other people in our city share your understanding and assumptions? Looking at Acts 17, I see two types of people, and bringing it into today, there is a third type.

Unbelievers with some belief in God and confidence in the Bible

  • This person sees at least some authority or usefulness in the Bible.
  • This person believe in the God of the Bible at some level.
  • For this person, life may be about rule-keeping and ritual or at least exploring God-related knowledge.
  • This person needs to see the insufficiency of life and religions without Jesus and come to a saving faith in Jesus.

Unbelievers with no belief in God or acceptance of the Bible’s authority

  • This person may be unfamiliar with the Bible or not accept it as authoritative.
  • He or she may believe God doesn’t exist; God exists but is impersonal; everything is god; there are many gods; self is where it’s at; or truth is what I decide it is.
  • This person needs to see the reality of the one creator God, hear the call to worship Him through Jesus Christ, and come to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

Born again Christians who have to decide how to relate to God’s Word and its teachings

  • This person needs to hear the call to be noble-minded and really engage Biblical teaching and the Word, not just stay unchanged by it.
  • This person needs to give Jesus His rightful place as King in everything.
  • This person needs to be willing to be turned upside down and seek the Kingdom fully.

 



Advancing the Kingdom – The Gospel’s Freedom

July 18, 2017

 

Acts 16:16-40  What are some roadblocks, detours, and challenges in your life relative to the Kingdom and relative to everyday life? How do you respond to those? Further, how have you seen the need for Jesus in people’s lives, and how have you seen the Kingdom hindered?

As we look at vv. 16-18, we find the Gospel is all about freedom through Jesus and overcoming Kingdom obstacles, but, when that happens (vv. 19-21), not everyone is going to be happy about it. In fact, bringing the Gospel’s freedom into our world can be costly (vv. 22-24). Is the Kingdom advancing enough because of us to make people unhappy?

Sometimes for the sake of the Kingdom, and sometimes just because of life, we find ourselves in hard places (vv. 23-24), and that can raise questions about God’s purpose and our response. Of all the possible responses, prayer and praise are the best (v. 25) – prayer and praise grounded in the unchanging person and work of Jesus. Then, we can trust God and watch Him work to bring the Gospel’s freedom into our lives and the lives of others (vv. 26-40).

Some Overarching Principles From this Passage

  • Advancing the Kingdom is all about Gospel freedom, but that work can be costly.
  • Your circumstances don’t change who God is, who you are, or our purpose, and they shouldn’t change our heart for God and the Kingdom.
  • How we respond to circumstances and people frees God to move and points others to Jesus or prevents it.
  • Prayer and praise connect us with God’s power for God’s purpose.

 



Advancing the Kingdom – Difficulty and New Territory

July 11, 2017

Acts 15:36-16:15  Advancing the Kingdom requires God’s hand some of the following ways:

God’s Grace in our Mess (15:36-41)
  • Being born again doesn’t take away personality, and there can be conflicts.
  • Some people may need a different kind of team member than others (Mark with Barnabas / Timothy with Paul).
  • We are challenged to bring the Lord into our disagreements and seek the Lord’s redemptive work in our disagreements.
  • When we agree to disagree, it shouldn’t mean permanent and mean lasting animosity.

God’s Provision in our Faithfulness (16:1-5)

  • If you want to be useful tomorrow, be faithful today (i.e. Timothy).
  • If you want to have an impact tomorrow, be growing today (i.e. Timothy).
  • If you want to suggest someone for ministry, make a good suggestion (Timothy’s good name with the believers).
  • If you want to serve the Lord, it may mean sacrifices and changes to remove hindrances to the Gospel (i.e. Timothy’s circumcision).

God’s Direction in our Efforts (16:6-10)

  • God knows more about Kingdom advance than we do.
  • We may need longer in a place than we intend.
  • Some hearts may be more ready than others.
  • It is possible for it not to be God’s time for us to go to certain people.
  • We need Him to orchestrate our Kingdom work for greatest impact.
  • If we think we are not supposed to go, we need to be sure it is not just our hesitation.

God’s Blessing on our Sharing (16:11-15)

  • Strategic work is good – what are your strategic opportunities?
  • It doesn’t take a building; it takes Jesus, faithfulness, and open hearts.
  • Share who you know (Jesus) with who you are with.
  • Small starts are OK when the Lord blesses the work – what are your new territories and small things?

 



Advancing the Kingdom – A Crucial Issue in Kingdom Work

July 11, 2017

 

Acts 15:1-35  As we think about advancing the Kingdom, the place of religious ritual and practice vs. faith in Jesus is a crucial issue.

Highlighting the Problem (vv. 1-5)

– Jewish Christians were telling non-Jewish Christians Jesus  wasn’t enough to save them – they needed ritual too. This raises all sorts of questions. Is Jesus enough for salvation? How should evangelism be done? The issue had to be dealt with.
 

Discussing the Problem (vv. 6-21)

– So, there was a meeting and Peter testified God had used him to bring Gentiles to faith in Jesus without ritual; Paul and Barnabas shared how God had moved among Gentiles without rituals; and James affirmed from Scripture that this was legitimate.
 

Instructions Regarding the Problem (vv. 22-29)

– I found some ambiguity about the instructions to abstain from idols, fornication, strangled animals, and blood. Some argued a bit of ritual compromise was necessary, but this doesn’t seem to fit what Paul writes in Galatians. Others mentioned these as only moral issues, but that is not a tight argument either. A professor friend shared a third option, that all of these things have the common thread of idolatry – idols, ritual fornication, strangled animals (means of sacrifice) and the blood of those animals. From the whole New Testament, it is obvious all Christians are bound by God’s moral and ethical requirements, and paganism was rampant in that day. I believe that, in that day when Judaism was the only monotheistic religion, it had to be made clear that believers in Jesus were also monotheistic. An application today would be that we must not participate in false religion and must serve God in Christ exclusively, giving no impression of serving any other god.
 

So, there is one Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus for all – no ritual for salvation, and our worship and service of Him must be exclusive.

 



And Liberty for All

July 03, 2017
 
John 8:31-32  Tomorrow, we celebrate our nation’s birth and independence. Whatever your estimation of our nation’s condition, and to whatever extent folks have limited and seemingly denied our freedoms, we still live in a mighty free country. As important as political, national, and personal freedoms are, the spiritual freedom in Jesus Christ is immeasurably more important.
 

Who is “you”? There are lost people who need to come to Jesus, and there are saved Christians who need to continue close / growing in Christ. What is it to know that truth? There is knowing facts in our mind, then there is knowing in a living experience kind of way. We need to know the truth of what the Bible says, and we need to know the truth of the Living Word, Jesus, lived out in our lives in personal relationship. Do you know the truth of Jesus in a “living experience” kind of way?

This freedom through Jesus is freedom from trying to pay for your sin and freedom from fear, guilt, shame, and hopelessness, because of Jesus’ work and promises. It is freedom from the power of sin and the captivity of the past. This freedom in Jesus’ truth is also freedom to walk with God in holiness and come into His presence. It is freedom to serve God and others and freedom to live somewhat above / in spite of circumstances. Are you truly free to know / serve God today, or are you bound up in fear, condemnation, failure, sin?

When we live in the freedom of Jesus as we know the truth in a living way, people separated from God and trying to find freedom, power, and meaning in life can receive forgiveness and life in   Jesus, as we bring Him to them. And, we can enjoy our salvation in the peace, power, joy, and abundance of Jesus. Will you trust and commit yourself to the truth of Jesus and live in it daily?

 



Advancing the Kingdom – Braving Opposition and Strengthening Christians

June 27, 2017

Acts 14:1-28 In this chapter, we find some Kingdom advancing principles about facing opposition and strengthening other Christians.

The Reality of Mixed Response

As we proclaim, and the Holy Spirit empowers and convicts, some open their hearts, understand, and receive, but others refuse either through hardness or misunderstanding. This can happen  despite powerful preaching and ministry. Additionally, God may empower the preaching and the work, but He does not force His grace on people or eliminate opposition.

The Threat of Opposition

For whatever reason, some may stir up opposition. Also, when the truth challenges people’s thinking or does not give them what they want, they may turn on us, even if at first they liked us.

Faithful Kingdom Work

Faithful Kingdom work calls for dependence on the Lord and faithfulness to Lord and the work. It also calls for commitment to those who believe, as well as persistence and prudence. We find here that our time and work may be limited, but we should be faithful because it can bear fruit. Also, we are encouraged to share Christ other places when we can’t share Him where we are.

Strengthening God’s People

God’s people may be strengthened as we build up fellow Christians. To strengthen other believers, we need faithfulness, resolve, commitment, follow-through, and the willingness to risk for their spiritual welfare. Fellow Christians need strength and encouragement because of life difficulties they face, because there are un-Godly influences around them, and because they may face rejection and opposition for their faith and new lifestyle in Christ. We also may strengthen each other through sharing stories of Kingdom advancement for God’s glory.

How would these truths shape your work of advancing God’s Kingdom in your life, home, church, and world?

 



Advancing the Kingdom Through the Church – Inviting Others Into God’s Story

June 20, 2017

Acts 13:13-52  What are the defining moments in your story? At what point in your life did you become aware of God’s desire to write you into His story or begin to consider that possibility? In today’s passage, we discover that advancing the Kingdom is a matter of inviting others into God’s story of redemption.
 

As we hear the truth of God’s story in these verses, we discover a God who is just and gracio0us, is powerful and faithful, and is redemptive. We discover people are valued by God, are in need of a Savior, and are not without hope. We discover the person and work of Jesus is the centerpiece of God’s plan as He does for us what we could not do for ourselves –  make us right with God when we come to Him in faith. As we see the responses in the passage, we discover the danger of resistance and rejection of Jesus. Some don’t like what they hear in the Gospel – a suffering Messiah, that rule-keeping isn’t enough, that God has expectations. Some are jealous because they feel self-righteous and do not want God’s    saving grace extended to come groups of people. Whatever the reason for the rejection, they miss out on God’s blessings in Jesus. However, we also find the blessings of those who receive Jesus. Some seek further understanding, understand their need, and receive God’s salvation through Jesus.

Certain themes stand out for inviting people into God’s story today:

  • Key factors in God’s story include God’s place and our need, the centrality of Jesus, and the call to respond in repentance and faith.
  • Faithfulness does not guarantee everyone will receive the message.
  • Lost people and people who think they are right with God can create opposition to the Kingdom work.

Where do we find ourselves in God’s story and the work of inviting others into it?