Tag Archives: kingdom of God

Today’s Scripture – August 28, 2019

Acts 19:1-7 (NIV)
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

Paul returned to Ephesus, catching up again with Aquila and Priscilla. While he was working with the Church there, he found a dozen men whom he sensed had not yet received the Holy Spirit.

It turned out that these were converts from Apollos’ early ministry. They had received salvation by believing in Jesus, but since Apollos didn’t know about the Holy Spirit fully, he couldn’t teach it to his disciples (Acts 18:25). So, they had only been baptized with John’s baptism for repentance. That was enough to enter the kingdom, but not enough to be able to receive all that the kingdom offers and to live in it powerfully and successfully.

The good news is that the fix was simple: the men were rebaptized, this time in the name of Jesus. Then Paul laid his hands on them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. As a clear sign of the difference, the men were enabled to speak in other languages and to prophecy, to speak God’s words clearly and boldly.

Often in the early Church, as well as in the church since then, steps get missed with people, so holes exist in their knowledge or understanding. But, as Paul understood, the solution is not to shake one’s head or get frustrated. The solution is simply to back up, give the information, fill the hole, and then we will be able to move forward in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Father, thank You for this insight. All too often we decry the state of the Church today and the immaturity of our people, but we don’t want to stop our forward movement or reschedule our plans in order to bring everyone up to speed. But it is clear from this that (1) the fixes will take less time than we fear, and (2) the results will enable us to move forward much more rapidly on the whole. Help us to move forward with this model, so that we can all move forward together. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – June 25, 2019

Acts 14:21-23 (NIV)
They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Paul and Barnabas had greater success in Derbe than they had had in Lystra. They gained many souls for the kingdom and got them well started in the path of discipleship before starting their return journey to Antioch of Syria.

As they retraced their steps back to the port of Pamphylia on the south coast, they also revisited the towns in which they had gained disciples, encouraged them, and taught them some more that they needed to know about the kingdom of God. There was no outcry or protest from the Jews during these visits, because the pair were not preaching publicly or in the synagogues. They were focused on building up those who were already disciples who would share the good news with their families, friends and neighbors after they had gone. They reminded these new Christians of Jesus’ words that they would face severe trials as disciples, but they also assured them of Jesus’ presence and promise of help.

The other vital thing that Paul and Barnabas did was to appoint elders in each of the towns to oversee the Church there going forward. This was very important because the people in each of those communities still looked at Paul and Barnabas as their leaders, but now they were going away and might never be able to return. By placing responsibility for oversight in the hands of mature, Spirit-filled believers (1 Timothy 3:1-7), the future of the work of the kingdom and the spiritual growth of the believers would be assured.

Father, we sometimes forget that sharing the gospel and making a convert is not the end of the process but only the beginning. We must then help those who believe to go on to maturity in Christ and raise up leadership that will ensure the future of the Church. Help us, Lord, to not only think abut this reality, but to do it with Your strength and power working in and through us. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – June 17, 2019

Acts 13:49-52 (NIV)
The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

The gospel properly presented, and the converts properly discipled led to huge success all around the area of Pisidian Antioch. This thrilled not only Paul and Barnabas, but God’s heart as well. This community would now be a solid outpost of the kingdom of God, and even after Paul and Barnabas moved on the disicples would serve as effective ambassadors.

But Paul and Barnabas’ leaving happened sooner than they planned. The Jewish leaders, dismayed by the swelling ranks of new followers of Jesus and their own diminishing numbers, went right into defense mode Rather than think, “Those guys must really be onto something,” they thought, “They have to be stopped!”

In a surprise move, these leaders enlisted the help of the gentiles: women who were God-fearers and city officials. They spread the story that Paul and Barnabas were dangerous, subverting the Jewish faith and even turning people against the empire as their primary allegiance. This was enough to cause some high-placed people in opposition to the missionaries, and they sent local officials to them to throw them out of the city, with a stern warning to leave the area and not come back.

Paul had experienced persecution before, so this didn’t surprise him at all. They were able to move on knowing that the disciples they had brought into the kingdom and helped to get started in growing and sharing would effectively continue their work in the area. So, they didn’t put up a fight. They left town but shook the dust off their feet as a warning to those who rejected their message, just as Jesus had instructed (Luke 10:14-15).

The last sentence refers to the state of the disciples Paul and Barnabas had left behind in Antioch. They were filled with joy, not that demons were afraid of them (although they were), but that their names were written in heaven (Luke 10:20). And they were full of the Holy Spirit as well, serving in the very power of God from hearts made pure by faith (Acts 1:8, 15:8-9).

Father, it is common today for many Christian leaders to worry that if their people are left un-shepherded, even for a short time, they will quickly fall away. But the first-century leaders knew that it was highly likely that they would be sent away, arrested, or even killed, and their followers would be left on their own. So, they made a top priority of building, not converts, but true disciples, on helping those followers to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and on teaching them very early to obey everything Jesus commanded, including His command to continue the process of kingdom growth by going and making disciples themselves. Then they knew that, if they were killed or arrested without warning, or even if the Holy Spirit simply directed them to move on, they weren’t going to be leaving behind spiritual infants who would be in danger of falling or turning away, but powerful, mature, Spirit-filled disciples of Jesus, intent on fulfilling Jesus’ commission. Help us to recapture that same vision for discipleship ourselves. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – May 1, 2019

Acts 9:32-35 (NIV)
As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

There was already a Christian community in Lydda, about twelve miles inland from Joppa, when Peter came into town. No record is given as to how the seeds of the gospel were first planted there, but the most natural explanation is that some Lyddans were in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection and were saved and baptized under Peter’s ministry. When they returned, they brought with them the good news of the kingdom, and their families and friends believed based on their testimony.

But there was still a sizeable population in and around Lydda that either hadn’t heard or hadn’t believed. Solid theological arguments are often unconvincing to the spiritually deaf. Even the testimony of a transformed life can be less than impressive to those who don’t know a person well enough to see the difference.

But when Peter came, the Holy Spirit prompted him to do something that no one would be able to argue with. Aeneas had been paralyzed and bed-ridden for eight long years. In that time, many doctors had taken a shot at curing him, but nothing they did made any difference.

But Peter simply walked up to his bedside, and without any elaborate prayers or rituals, simply guided by the Holy Spirit, told him to get up and roll up the mat he had been lying on. And that’s all it took. In that moment, Aeneas was healed and strengthened. He got up for the first time in eight years and rolled up his mat.

Those who saw the miracle, and many more who knew Aeneas and heard or saw that he had been healed, may not have immediately believed, but they were now open to the gospel. And Peter preached, and taught, and led them into the open gates of the kingdom.

Father, a powerful miracle really can open doors that seem impregnable and touch hearts that seem immovable. And that’s true, not just in the days of the apostles, but in our day as well. A clear demonstration of Your power shows not only Your reality, but points clearly to Your character and Your almighty strength as well. Help me to be open to Your working a miracle through me today, and to eagerly listen to the voice of Your Spirit guiding me as to when, where and how. And when You have acted, free my lips to clearly proclaim the good news of Your kingdom, and to show people how they can be part of it. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – April 24, 2019

Acts 8:30-40 (NIV)
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

God had been right. As Philip approached the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch, he heard him reading a familiar passage from Isaiah 53:7-8, a portion of the “suffering servant” prophecy, a passage that the apostles taught had foreshadowed the suffering and death of Jesus. And he knew exactly what he needed to do.

Philips first words to the eunuch were a question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” Implied in the question was the idea that Philip did understand the passage and was willing to help the eunuch understand it as well.

To those seeking the truth, a trustworthy guide is always welcome. So, the man accepted Philip’s implied offer and invited him to ride along in the chariot while they talked.

Philip began with the passage the eunuch had been reading, and explained how Jesus had fulfilled the prophecy, and why it was important. He also went back to the middle of chapter 52 of Isaiah, and read the whole passage in its context, all the way to the end of chapter 53, to show the man the substitutionary character of Jesus’ suffering and death, as well as the prophecy of His victorious resurrection (Isaiah 53:10-11). He followed this with a litany of Jesus’ miracles and some of His teachings about the now-present kingdom of God that many were coming into through faith in Jesus.

It was right then that they came to an oasis beside the road, and the eunuch asked exactly the right question: “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” He had believed in Jesus as Philip shared, and he wanted to come into the kingdom of God and live there forever. His faith was evident, so Philip baptized him on the spot.

Some have seen a mystery or a miracle in the next couple of verses, with Philip disappearing with a poof and appearing with another poof in Azotus. But all Luke is saying is that once the eunuch was baptized, Philip declined to go further with him, because the Spirit was calling him to his next assignment. And the next place that he stopped and taught was in Azotus, the old Philistine city of Ashdod near the coast just a few miles north of Gaza. He taught there, and then continued to teach in towns along the coast until he got to Caesarea south of Haifa, where he settled (Acts 21:8-9).

Father, this whole episode shows me once again the importance of following Your guidance whenever and however it comes. Philip heard Your voice and responded, and the eunuch was led into the kingdom. Tradition tells us that many more Ethiopians came to faith in Jesus through the eunuch’s testimony when he returned home. And then You led Philip north along the coast into territories yet unreached by the gospel, and you enabled a harvest of souls in those areas as well. Your plan is always to use Your people to reach others with the good news of Your kingdom. Thank You for letting me be part of that plan. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – March 11, 2019

Acts 5:7-11 (NIV)
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

It was not a worship service in which these things happened. Many think that it was because that’s where Christians gather and bring offerings today. This all happened in one of the places that the people of the kingdom were typically living life together. That’s why Sapphira came in three hours later and this life together was still going on.

Sapphira expected to be greeted with cheers and pats on the back for the supposed great sacrifice that she and Ananias had made for the good of the body. Instead, she was greeted with a spreading silence. The people hadn’t been able to locate her to tell her that her husband had died three hours earlier, and no one wanted to be the one to break the news to her now.

So, they brought her to Peter. And though Peter was not harsh or unkind, he was very direct in what he wanted to know: was the amount of money that Ananias had brought in and laid at his feet the total amount that their property had sold for, as Ananias had claimed?

The question was a moment of grace. Rather than simply assume collusion between husband and wife, Peter was giving her a clear opportunity to tell the truth. If she had simply said, “No, it was only half of what we got for the property. We needed to keep the rest for our own needs,” the whole thing would have turned out very differently. She would have been thanked for her generous gift and comforted for her loss.

But instead, she lied, and repeated the story that she and her husband had concocted: that they had brought in all that they had received from the sale. Thus, instead of gratitude and comfort, she received God’s instant condemnation, and the same fate as her husband. She lied at the cost of her life, and the young men carried her out and buried her next to her husband.

These two deaths, happening because of God’s direct judgment and punishment of those among the Church who sinned, stunned the rest of the Church. They had never seen anything like this. It was as if the stories from the Exodus, when God lived tangibly among His people, were happening all over again.

And this was a closer analogy than they realized. Christianity is not merely a philosophy or a religion, a set of beliefs that are subscribed to in a greater or lesser degree by its adherents. It is a life lived in the kingdom of God, enabled by the sacrifice of Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit whom Jesus had poured out on the people of the kingdom. So, to live in the kingdom is to live in God’s very presence, a risky proposition for any who are unconcerned about sin in their lives.

Father, even though this is absolutely the truth, so many of the people of the Church don’t see it that way. We have all too commonly reduced Christianity to a series of beliefs, and we no longer see ourselves as living actively in Your presence. It is a mercy that we haven’t been entirely uprooted already! Forgive us, Lord, and help us to become Your people as You designed us to be, so that we can truly live in Your presence and serve You without fear, in holiness and righteousness all our days. (Luke 1:74-75).

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – February 14, 2019

Acts 2:43-47 (NIV)
Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This picture of the early Church is neither an idealistic airbrushed portrait of honestly dysfunctional people like us, nor an example of socialism in action. Instead, it is a picture of the natural outgrowth of the devotion that these new Christians had for the apostles’ teachings, the fellowship, sharing food with each other, and prayer, facilitated strongly by the life-transforming, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within each of them.

The wonders and miracles done by the apostles (and others – Acts 6:8) were concrete signs that the whole community was living in the kingdom of God as a current reality. And, just as it was with Jesus, that supernatural ability served as a sign to those in the community that the apostles should be listened to when they taught, as well as serving as a draw to outsiders.

Their sharing of resources was not required by the community, but sprang naturally from hearts that were filled to overflowing with God’s agape love for each other (James 2:14-16). When they saw a need, their first response was to think, “What can I do to help with this need?” doing for others what they would want to be done for them if they were in the same situation (Matthew 7:12).

Their sharing of food from house to house sprang from that same motive. They didn’t have to have a church building in which to hold potlucks. Instead, each of them opened their own homes for other to come and share meals with them. They were now family, brothers and sisters in Christ, so this too came very naturally.

Praise and gladness flowed easily in and through this kind of fellowship. These people knew that they had been brought out of darkness into the light, and they delighted to see that light grow and spread to encompass family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even perfect strangers.

And, of course, the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. People were drawn by the light of Jesus shining through these people of the kingdom (Matthew 5:14-16), because light is a powerful attractant to those who are stumbling in the darkness. Joy and hope are powerful attractants to the sad and disheartened. And peace is a powerful attractant to nearly everyone.

Father, we see this picture of the early Church and we crave what they had, and rightly so. Compared to them, our lives seem so powerless and ordinary. But externally-operated programs and activities are a poor and ineffective substitute for the Holy Spirit-motivated love, compassion, and power that these people had, based on their devotion to You and Jesus and Your word first, and then to each other as coworkers in Your mission to transform the world by helping individuals and families to find transformation through faith in Jesus. Work in us, Lord that same devotion, and fill us with that same Holy Spirit so that we can live out that same kingdom life today. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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