Providence and Prayer and Turkey

I’m still processing our trip to Turkey to visit some long time friends and be a help to them and take them some treats from home. See, we arrived in Turkey just in time to witness the coup and work on getting out of the coup.

Myself, my oldest son Gabriel, Kristen Colston and Anna Lauren Cone were the Three Rivers team going to be a blessing to our friends. Why let us get there and not complete what we went there to do? Why not shut the trip down before getting into Istanbul? Did we miss God’s intention? I have unanswered questions. But I also acknowledge that God does not owe me answers. “God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm”. “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust him for his grace. Behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face”. “Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan his work in vain. God is his own interpreter and he will make it plain”. Those lyrics by William Cowper are a great help.

What I do know is that God providentially uses prayer. This truth is firmly planted in my theological framework as a theologically reformed pastor. This truth has been experienced many times in my life and ministry. I’m not sure it’s as profoundly evident to me as it was this past week and a half.

Before any team leaves our church for domain engagement, we gather around them as a church at the end of a service, lay hands on them and pray for them. This trip was no different. This trip was significant because it was the first where one of our former children’s ministry alumni, my son Gabriel, got to use his invested resources in paying for his first global engagement opportunity. It was to serve TRC members who have gone from our church to serve for the sake of the Kingdom. It was to scout the possibility of a long-term place for our students (middle school and up) to engage yearly to serve the Great Commission, our people and grow their “glocal” abilities.

After we prayed, Gayla Darville gave me a laminated card with some instructions on engaging the spiritual battle. Gayla prays for me often and is perhaps the most encouraging member of TRC. But Gayla did not say much. In fact, she simply stated that she was supposed to give me that card and hesitated, a little tearful, and walked away. That card was some instruction on praying for and engaging in the spiritual conflict we are in daily and particularly would be engaging while gone.

Little did we know we would sit on a plane in Paris for an hour before taking off for no reason explained to us. Sitting at the gate. Not waiting to take off. So, by the time we took off it was well over an hour delay. When arriving in Istanbul, we wait in a line for passport control close to 2 hours. There were like 2 officers for 7,000 people (hyperbole).

We missed out flight for our destination city by roughly 20 minutes. So, we try to book later flights of 10:55 PM and 12:05 AM and all are full. So, we get a hotel just down the highway from the airport, take a cab (the cab driver did not speak a lick of English and I didn’t speak a lick of Turkish yet somehow he figured out what I was saying and took us right to our hotel), grab dinner, get a shower and proceed to watch a coup unfold from my window.

Of course, we begin communicating with our team back home, listening to State Department briefs and working on changing plans.

During all of this, I was receiving messages from people praying and offering help from literally all over the world. God’s people were praying and we were being led by God’s staying hand.

A dear brother, Mike Lewis, told me Sunday he was praying Psalm 34:7 “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” over us while we were gone.

That is just a sample of the way people were moved to pray for us and how God’s hand stayed us.

Grudem defines God’s providence like this: “God is continually involved with all created things in such a way that he (1) keeps them existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them; (2) cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do; and (3) directs them to fulfill his purposes.” (Grudem, p. 315)

It’s a complete mystery how God cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do, but it’s clear that God put it into the heart of people to pray specific things for us that were powerful and effective at moving God’s hand and fulfilling his purpose. I can’t explain it beyond that other than inviting people to read their bible and just enjoy that God works that way. It’s on just about every page.

Here is what we can conclude:

  1. God uses prayer to move things. So, pray. Prayer is perhaps the most tangible and effective Great Commission strategy.
  2. God moves in mysterious ways to perform his wonders for our good and his glory. Often ends are hidden from our eyes, but we know he works for good and the good of those who are called according to his purposes. If we don’t see the end we still know there are ends and they are good.
  3. Don’t spend so much time trying to figure out the metaphysics of “how” God does this, just enjoy that he does, wonder at him, marvel at him, delight in him, engage him by leaning on such wonders by doing hard things, believe Scripture and just enjoy!

Those are a few of my takeaways from our providentially successful trip to Turkey wrought in the prayers of God’s people.

 

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Acts 9:32-10:48 The Kingdom Strikes Back

Acts 9:32-10:48

The Kingdom Strikes Back (title borrowed from Ralph D. Winter’s Article “The Kingdom Strikes Back”  found here The Kingdom Strikes Back

NOTE: SUNDAY POSTS ARE INTENDED TO BE USED ALONG WITH THE SERMON. IF YOU MISSED THE SERVICE, YOU CAN FOLLOW THE NOTES AS YOU LISTEN ALONG JUST LIKE YOU WERE THERE. http://www.threeriversc.org/#/sermon-audio

Luke likes sequels. Luke tells the history of Jesus’ work and ministry in themed sequence.

Luke 15 is a prime example of a trilogy of parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.

Luke wrote Acts, and he does some of the same things here. Acts 9:32-10:48 is a trilogy of healings: The healing of Aeneas, the healing of Dorcas and the healing of Cornelius.

The point of the parables in Luke 15 is that Jesus seeks the lost.

The point of the historical narrative of Acts 9:32-10:48 is that Jesus heals people and saves the lost. Whether physical healing or awakening of the spiritually dead to life, Jesus heals people and brings people to himself.

Saul had been ravaging the church but Jesus fixed that in saving the chief persecuter.

The kingdom strikes back.

10:1-48 is also a turning point in the narrative. As Jesus heals gentiles of their dead state in sin, the gospel pioneers to places Jews dared never to go and thus pushed them to expand their concept of the kingdom of God to include all nations.

The kingdom strikes back. The kingdom just can’t be held down.

Observations: what do we see/what does it mean?

1. The gospel is always moving toward the frontier not camping within the walls. 

Note the movement of Peter in this section. Peter moves from a believing community to a believing community until he reaches the unreached.

Peter is encouraging the church and healing the sick and raising the dead and testifying to the power of Jesus.

The church is living in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Spirit and multiplying. As a result, the kingdom of God is expanding and the ministry widens (9:31).

If you look at a map, Lydda is west of Jerusalem, Joppa is further west on the coast and Caesarea is north up the coast.

The gospel of the kingdom moves outward not inward!

What do we do with this?

1. We are to fear the Lord and be comforted/counseled by the Spirit.

2. The church, fearing the Lord and being comforted/counseled by the Spirit, should be taking new territory.

3. The church must avoid an internal fixation (not neglecting the health of the church, rather understanding that healthy churches are not fixated on their growing comfort but on the expansion of the kingdom) and push for external engagement.

4. Constantly be looking for opportunities to multiply and expand and include others and grow in covenant community (RL groups / New TRC campuses by training up pastors / Church planting through training apostolic leaders).

2. The healing of Aeneas 9:32-35 

Peter seems to have taken on the ministry of visiting and encouraging believing communities because they have all come from their ministry in Jerusalem.

Peter visits, brings healing by Jesus’ power and gospel proclamation.

The result is that Aeneas walks again and unbelieving people see and believe the gospel.

3. The healing of Dorcas 9:36-43

The disciples at Joppa hear of Peter’s proximity and send for him in light of Tabitha’s death.

Peter follows the call to come help.

Peter imitates Jesus in calling Tabitha to come to life, and she does.

This miracle becomes known to all of Joppa, and “many believed in the Lord.”

Peter stays there for a time to continue the work of encouraging the church.

What do we do with this?

1. We take seriously the need to encourage the church wherever she is scattered. So, we will go to and encourage and strengthen their hand whenever needed.

2. We understand that signs and wonders draw attention to the powerful kingdom of Jesus so that unbelieving people will be drawn to Jesus.

3. We disciple those drawn to Jesus and build up the church.  v. 43

“And he stayed in Joppa for many days…”

3a. We can do this in RL groups as we invite lost friends to come and see.

3b. We can do this by inviting the wandering Christian to come and learn to follow Jesus with us.

4. The Healing of Cornelius 10:1-48

10:1-48 is a turning point in the story. From this point on we will see the church wrestle with how to include Gentiles and not make them try to be Jews and the explosion, as a result, of the kingdom of God to the nations.

There are great lessons here. We’ll unpack those as we walk through the text. But we want to make sure we don’t put on people cultural burdens that are not biblical.

This causes us to evaluate what we value and make sure our values are biblical not cultural.

10:1-8 The preparation of Cornelius

10:9-23a The preparation of Peter for frontier work

10:23b-48 Transformation of sinners to saints

What do we do with this?

1. We understand that Father is working out a providential plan.

2. We are to hear and obey.

3. We are to expect the Lord to expand our comfort levels.

4. We are to shamelessly preach the gospel.

5. We are to have the nations as our goal.

For the glory of God, we will disciple the nations, by being and producing radical followers of Jesus.

We, TRC, can’t reach all nations with TRC. But TRC can produce radical followers of Jesus and release them to the nations by sending them to their chosen nation, planting new churches that adopt nations, and generally ruining anyone who comes to us for a season to think about engaging the nations.

5. We must not give up on the vision. Rather we are to stay unified in it and push harder for it.

Train/Release/Repeat

5. Worship

Psalm 147:1 “