Tag Archives: missions

The Focus of the Kingdom of God

One day my friend Dan and I were helping a neighbor load a moving truck for the neighbor’s move to another state. Dan’s wife and two small children came along to visit Dan while he was helping load things onto the truck. At one point Dan’s 3-year-old son started crying, and his mom went to comfort him. She asked him what was wrong. He answered, “I don’t want daddy to move away.” Dan wasn’t moving – he was only helping a neighbor move. But Dan’s son had the wrong idea about the whole scene!

According to Acts 1:1-8, shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, his disciples had the wrong idea about what Jesus was doing with his kingdom. As a result, they had the wrong idea about what they should be doing as well. Jesus has just died for the sins of the world, so that people could participate in God’s kingdom and enjoy relationship with the King. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead and began to appear to the disciples. Note that according to Acts 1:3, Jesus continued to teach about the kingdom of God to his disciples. Even after his resurrection Jesus proclaimed the same kingdom he had announced at the beginning of his ministry and had demonstrated through his miraculous works.

Jesus and the apostles, Trinity Church, New York City

Jesus and the apostles, Trinity Church, New York City

Still, the disciples are confused at this point. In verse 6 they ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” There are two primary things they are confused about. First, they are confused about the timing of the kingdom. They think that it should come immediately. Jesus diverts their focus from timing to mission. They shouldn’t worry about the “times or seasons,” since that is God’s responsibility. Their response is to be empowered by the Spirit to be Jesus’ witnesses, pointing other people to God’s kingdom and its King. Waiting for God’s kingdom should never lead to passivity. The hope of the coming kingdom should motivate followers of Christ for service and ministry.

The second point of confusion is about the scope of God’s kingdom. The disciples envisioned a kingdom that was restored to Israel. But God’s kingdom is for both Israel and the other nations. Jesus told his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. God’s kingdom is open to anyone who has faith in Jesus and his sacrificial death for the forgiveness of our sins.

Even today the promise of Jesus’ kingdom coming sometimes creates idle speculation about dates and timing rather than motivation for action. We should avoid the pull towards passivity and instead be active witnesses and servants of God’s kingdom to people from all backgrounds and cultures.

(See also previous posts in this series on the kingdom of God).

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Filed under Acts, Biblical Theology, New Testament

Broadening Our Horizons

(View from the top of the famous Yellow Mountains – Huangshan, China)

We can easily succumb to tunnel vision in our Christian outlook. We are so immersed in our own time and place that it is easy to develop blind spots in our faith. In any given circle of believers certain aspects of Christianity are emphasized while others are neglected, leaving us unbalanced in our Christian faith and practice.

Here are two tried and true ways of broadening our horizons as believers:

1) Broaden them geographically. There are probably Christians from different cultures in your church, dorm, or neighborhood. Ask them what stands out to them about the Christianity they have observed in your culture. For instance, a friend from England once shared with me that he was struck by how openly material wealth seemed to be embraced among Christians in churches he visited in America.  You can also travel to another culture and watch how Christians in that culture live, pray, and worship. Ask them about how they became Christians or the obstacles they face as Christians in their culture. I have found that Christians from other cultures can teach me a lot about topics such as suffering, prayer, simplicity, and reverence.

2) Broaden them chronologically. Read church history! There are few things more beneficial to understanding the Bible and the Christian life than becoming conversant with influential figures in church history. Note how Christians from earlier eras talked about God and their faith. The contrast between their faith and ours is often striking. Were they misguided at times? Absolutely. Are we misguided at times? Why would we think otherwise? Reading church history and looking for points of disconnect can expose both their blind spots (which are easier to identify) and ours (which require humility and open-mindedness to detect). Here are some recommended places to start with church history:

– the Apostolic Fathers who lived shortly after the age of the apostles (especially 1 Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, the Didache, and the Epistle to Diognetus)

– 2nd and 3rd century church leaders Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian

Augustine (start with Confessions, from the late 4th century)

Luther, Calvin, and Wesley from the Reformation and beyond

– Missionaries from previous generations (Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, and Jim Elliot) or those who followed Christ during extraordinary times (Corrie ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer). These believers often possess a refreshing clarity about God that I lack.

Travel the world (including your own neighborhood), or travel through history. Both practices can challenge and enrich our vision for the Christian life.

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Filed under Church, Church History