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?

 



Advancing the Kingdom Through the Church – In the Holy Spirit’s Power

June 13, 2017

Acts 12:25-13:12  Why has God placed churches in this world, and what does He want them to do? He has placed us here to advance the Kingdom, and the Holy Spirit’s power and work is essential for that task.

In 12:25-13:3, we find the Spirit’s power and the church’s commission as we see three elements come together. We find the readiness of believers gifted to receive and pass on the Spirit’s message with attentive spirits and hearts receiving His direction in the context of worship. Further, we see the Spirit selecting the people, deciding the time and ministry, and initiating the   action. Finally, we find the church’s response of confirming the message, continuing worship, and obeying the Spirit. Moving to 13:5-19, we see the Spirit’s power for the Gospel work. Notice the   Gospel work is a matter of Spirit-directed partnership. Those serving must obey, but God must empower. Additionally, there may be opposition, but God takes that opposition seriously and may move in power to overcome it.

Despite the abuses of those claiming to be acting under God’s leadership and despite the disagreements about how much or little the Holy Spirit works today, I believe His work and power is still vital for the work of advancing God’s Kingdom. Sometimes, we ignore His leading or override Godly, Spirit-led leaders in churches. Sometimes, we try to do God’s work in our own ability or neglect God’s work for what we would prefer to do. We may trade passion for the Kingdom and   dependence on the Spirit for organizational goals and preferred programs. Do we understand our need for the Holy Spirit’s power, and do we want it? Will we seek it?

 



Advancing the Kingdom Through the Church – Dealing With Kingdom Challenges

June 06, 2017

 
Acts 12:1-24 As we think about people coming into the Kingdom, what might advance the  Kingdom in people and the world? What challenges get in the way, and how might we respond?
 
In verses 1-5a, we find the issue of Kingdom challenges once again, although this time the issue was not so much theology or tradition as political expediency. These days, challenges and opposition to the Kingdom and to God’s people take many forms and arise for various reasons. What are those challenges in your life, home, church, and world? Challenges and opposition raise questions, including what our response should be. In verses 5-19, we see a good response. The church did not curry favor with Herod, storm the prison, or compromise its mission. The church sought the Lord in fervent, continual, corporate prayer.  In many churches, prayer seems minimal or something of a last resort. Payer is to be our default response. Then, in vv. 20-24, we see the prideful humbled and the Kingdom continue to advance in the truth of the Gospel. The death of Herod shows God ultimately taking care of opposition in His time and way, but it also shows a compromise. The people of Tyre and Sidon turned to and ingratiated Herod for their needs, partnering with him in his destruction and their disappointment. The church, as we noted earlier, took its needs to God.
 

Not all opposition is Kingdom opposition, but where is there opposition to the Kingdom in your life, home, church, or world? What is our response? What might happen if the church began to pray once again?

 



Praying for Deliverance From Bondage

May 30, 2017

Matthew and Mark both tell the story of a demon-possessed boy brought to the disciples by his father and their inability to cast out the demon. The boy was in bondage and needed deliverance, but they could not free him. Jesus came and cast out the demon, and the disciples, once in private, asked Jesus why they were not able to cast it out. In one account, Jesus told them that kind of demon only comes out with fasting and prayer, and in the other account, He only mentioned prayer. As I write, my burden is for Christians who live in bondage. Some bondage may be spiritual, but a lot of it is not. Years of working on it and decades of being in church have not freed them. I believe we are called to intercede deeply for those who are in bondage. I believe Jesus wants joy and victory in our Christian lives, and we need deliverance to achieve it. In some cases, like in Paul’s, the Lord’s response is to have us continue with the weakness and live by His grace, but in others He wants to free us.

What kind of things bind Christians? There is anger, fear, un-forgiveness. There are certain sinful desires, attitudes, and thought patterns. There is bitterness, discouragement, and hurt over past situations. There are many things that cripple God’s people, and I ask you to begin, as a church, lifting up those who are in bondage so they can experience God’s work in their lives.

 



Advancing the Kingdom – Overcoming Barriers to the Gospel 2

May 23, 2017

Acts 10:34-11:18  Many things tend to separate people, preventing us from associating with them and serving as obstacles to advancing the Kingdom. Our passage helps us overcome these.

In 10:34-48, we find an unexpected welcome into God’s family. You see, even though God had a purpose for the Old Testament, exclusive nature of Israel, that heart and plan was ultimately inclusive. There had to be a distinction until He brought Messiah, Jesus, to do His work. Here we find God looks deeper to lineage, culture, and ritual, to the heart. As we  continue, we discover the Good News message of Jesus and His redeeming work, and we find that salvation must be through grace by faith, for the Holy Spirit came upon these new believers without them first becoming Jewish or doing any religious rituals. Look at 11:1-18. Notice that, as great as the salvation of new people was, the big issue was that Peter ate with the wrong people. As we think about reaching lost people, who or what would we take umbrage at, and why? Notice, though, the joy when the Jewish believers realized God was saving others.

We have looked at some of the obstacles that exist. So, what are we talking about when we speak of overcoming those barriers? We are talking about fellowship and spending time with lost people to share Jesus, refusing to adopt non-Biblical tests of fellowship, refusing to make the Gospel more difficult than it is, and not allowing prejudice to exclude people from God’s grace. We are not, however, talking about joining lost people in sin, removing the ethical and moral components of the Gospel, or eliminating the call to repentance that is in the Gospel.

Again, may the Lord help us overcome obstacles to the Gospel so the Kingdom may advance in our world!

 



Advancing the Kingdom – Overcoming Barriers to the Gospel 1

May 16, 2017 

Acts 10:1-36  Many things tend to separate people, some of which include personal taste and preference, language, culture, ethnicity, education, social status, tendency to assume our way is right and others are wrong, and the tendency to associate with those most like us. This passage deals with obstacles to advancing the Kingdom.

As we look at 10:1-23, we find God moving faith forward and sending us out. Think for a moment about Cornelius’ level of faith and openness to God. Think also about Peter’s reservations God needed to overcome. Taking a broad perspective, we discover that God can work with open hearts, and advancing the Kingdom may require some stretching on our part. How can we point others to Jesus if we won’t associate with them? As we continue into 10:24-36, we explore the need to build bridges in order to share Jesus. Think about God’s lack of partiality toward different kinds of people and the bridges we need to build.

Looking at the whole passage, what do we learn about advancing the Kingdom today? First, what obstacles exist? We mentioned some earlier, but additional ones include our unwillingness for some to come to Christ and a misunderstanding of the Gospel – sometimes excluding those God wants to save. As we build bridges, we also have to look at our motives. Are we associating with the lost in their sin and to gratify our flesh, or are we associating in    legitimate ways to share Jesus? A guiding principle is to distinguish between what the Bible makes an issue or test of fellowship and what it does not. As we associate with the lost, we must distinguish their heart and guard our heart as well.

There can be large barriers to sharing the Gospel. May the Lord guide us in overcoming those obstacles!

 



Advancing the Kingdom Through the Church – Strengthening the Church in a Time of Peace

May 09, 2017

 Acts 9:31-43  In our lives and among Christian people, there are seasons of struggle and seasons of peace. In this somewhat transitional passage in Acts, we find encouragement for building God’s people and advancing the Kingdom in a time of peace.

Building in a Season of Peace (v. 31) –

Just as struggle can benefit us by sharpening our faith and deepening our walk, peace allows us time to reflect, improve our understanding, and further God’s work. During these times, the Holy Spirit wants to work to advance the Kingdom in and through us. Are your times of peace productive in the Lord?
 

Through Peter’s Eyes (vv. 32-43) –

Kingdom-Advancing ministry is not about you but about what Jesus does in and through you as you surrender to Him and obey Him to touch others in the church and outside the church with His grace and in His name.
 

Through Aeneas’ Story (vv. 32-35) –

I suspect Aeneas was saved, yet he was still paralyzed. What I see in his story is that getting saved doesn’t automatically fix everything. Like him, many are saved yet still wrestle with things, and our call is to work within our limitations to honor the Lord. Also, the Lord may extend grace for us to find healing and move past our limiting struggles to serve Him even better.
 

Through Dorcas’ Story (vv. 36-43) –

The Gospel should stir a love in us for each other that has practical expression among God’s people as we extend God’s care to them through that which we are able to do. Notice that God’s people are tangible evidence of God’s presence to each other. We also find Jesus can give someone a second chance to continue well in ways that bless others and advance the Kingdom.

 



More About Oaks of Righteousness

May 02, 2017
 
I mentioned that I have been grasped by Isaiah 61:3c – “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor” (NIV). This verse talks about God’s redeemed people as oaks of righteousness. Let’s think more about this.
  • Oaks Grow Slowly – I mentioned Sunday that our time of reflection and prayer on the truths of this verse might need to be a time of praise for the changes God has made in our lives over the years. You probably can look back and thank God for making you less of a thorn bush and more of an oak of righteousness over the years.
  • Unlike Natural Oaks, we can be Part Thorn Bush – What I mean by this is that there may still be an area of your life that exhibits more of the old, self-life rather than the righteousness of the Lord. Or, it may be that you weaken and move away from being an oak of righteousness when certain circumstances occur or in the face of certain pressures or temptations. In what ways do you still need to ask the Lord to make you more of an oak of righteousness?
  • Oaks Rely on Their Roots – In order for us to be oaks of righteousness, our roots need to go down deep into Jesus. That means we cannot settle for a superficial relationship with Him. We must cultivate our connection with Him through faith, surrender, worship, prayer, the Word, and simply drawing aside to seek Him. Then, we will have Him as our source and foundation. What can you do this week to improve your rootedness in Jesus?

Pray with me, “Lord, how can I be an oak of righteousness? What needs to happen in me to make me an oak of righteousness?”

 



Oaks of Righteousness

April 25, 2017

In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul says that the created order reveals the invisible attributes of God. In other words, as we look at the grandeur of what God has made, we ought to notice the majesty and worthiness of God because of how beautiful creation is – it displays His splendor. Last week, I was grasped byIsaiah 61:3c – “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor” (NIV). Think with me about oak trees – those strong, stately, sometimes huge, and majestic trees. This verse talks about God’s redeemed people as oaks of righteousness.  Let’s think through this together.

  • Oaks of Righteousness – Of all the things a person might excel in or be strong in, God’s plan for His people is that we be strong in righteousness. This is the character of God produced in us that is declared of us and given to us in Jesus at salvation and is worked out in us as we grow in sanctification and Christ-likeness.
  • A Planting of the Lord – Notice this is the Lord’s doing. Not only is it God’s plan for us to demonstrate righteousness, but it is something He does as we cooperate with Him. This is not self-righteousness. We are His planting.
  • For the Display of His Splendor – All the glory is for and to God. As we grow in righteousness to become “oaks” of majesty and strength that the Lord produces in us that He has planted, it is so others can look at us and see His greatness, His attributes, His glory. It is not about our glory but His.

I have been praying, “Lord, how can I be an oak of righteousness? What needs to happen in me to make me an oak of righteousness?”

 



How to Live in Resurrection Power

April 18, 2017

 
Romans 8:11 God’s resurrection power is available for our lives and church now. So, how do we live in that power? First, we need to get our thinking right. God wants His power in our lives to give us a new life in us that produces Godliness, freedom from sin, the ability to serve and witness, and reconciliation with God and others. Do we believe God’s power is available, and do we want it to do in our lives, homes, and church what God wants? We also live in resurrection power by getting our inner being right. We do this by resting in the Lord Jesus, drawing aside and spending time with God, and adopting a heart to partner with God. This means paying attention to what God is doing so we can participate. Finally, we live in resurrection power by getting our doing right. We might need to unpack these later, but let me list a few things we can do.
  • Devoted and continual pursuit of God through genuine worship, the Bible, and prayer
  • Staying alert to our own heart and situation
  • Resisting the devil’s attempts to tempt us
  • Clearing the mental clutter and distraction that keeps us from seeking God
  • Walking by the Holy Spirit

What steps can you take this week to live in His power?