Promises and Kingdom Reality (Lane)
Promises and Kingdom Reality
by Lonnie Lane
Peering into men’s hearts God looked to and fro throughout the land and finally found one He knew He could trust to believe Him. There in Ur, in all the prestige and accomplishment of Ur was a man named Abram that God wanted for Himself. Through this man He would accomplish great things. This man would be the key to restoring the entire earth to Himself in time. And so God began to speak to Abram, who would one day become Abraham, and make Himself known to him.
How does God begin to make a person into all that He intends? He makes promises to him! Promises that at present seem impossible. He promises Abram that through the son he still doesn’t have, He will give him a land that He will show him but isn’t his now. He doesn’t tell him about having to conquer the land from its inhabitants or what that will take. His descendents will figure that out later, though Abram doesn’t know that now. And God promises him that he will be a blessing to the whole world. The whole world!! Outrageous, don’t you think? But if anyone can make it happen, it’s God. As we know, Abram believed God and set out for the land God promised him. And as we also know, that land is Israel.
The promised land can be likened to Kingdom reality. The land of Israel is the physical reality of the spiritual kingdom of God. Both are fulfilled in Israel. Israel is also the down payment for the whole earth eventually being returned to the sovereign Lordship of the Creator of heaven and earth. Israel is God’s statement of His sovereignty and truth. He said that land is His, and so it will be, just as the whole world will be entirely His when “the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord” (Is 11:9). The present god of this world, operating under squatters’ rights, has gotta go at some point. This is one reason why Israel and especially Jerusalem must remain in the hands of the Jews. Why? Because God promised!
Promises are God’s sculpting tools to carve out His Kingdom on the earth. They define His will. They reveal His omniscience, His omnipotence, and His omnipresence: He knows all things even before they come to pass, therefore He can promise, and He is all powerful to make them come about. What He has declared through His prophets will come to pass. He is present in the midst of all circumstances to guide, lead, and bring to the place of fulfillment all He has planned. In all this, His promises reveal the goodness of God, for though He may warn us against harm, and even predict when trouble will come, what He promises is always reflective of His absolute goodness.
God’s promises tell us what He plans to do in our lives. Either He speaks to us directly or we find it in His word and it “speaks to us” as a rhema word, an alive word to us, not just info on the page. Through this, He shifts our paradigm – our life picture – so that now our plans start to become His plans. He turns our expectations toward what He wants to do or what He wants us to be about in our lives. His promises become our desires. Our lives as believers are largely formed by His promises. Even when we pray and ask God for something we desire, He changes us as we wait for Him to do it and bring it about in our lives. He molds the desires of our hearts as we look to Him and He forms our character to be more God-like as we wait for the promises to come to pass. He may take a long time to answer our prayer, or to fulfill the promise He’s made to us, while He prepares us to be able to walk in the realization of the promise which may take maturity or a character trait that needs to be developed in us. Sometimes we realize that what we’re waiting for is not what we really want when we catch on to the fact that it isn’t His will for us, and suddenly we lose interest in it, or even if we give it up with a struggle with our own flesh, in the end, His ways become our ways if we’re His.
We’re familiar with God promising things to come. We hope for them to come to pass, not as the world hopes, as in “Gee, I hope this happens” meaning there’s an element of doubt. We believe in the fulfillment of what we hope for, not as the world believes, as in “Well, I believe that may be true,” meaning we’re not sure. When God promises, He doesn’t mean for us to say, “I guess it’ll happen.” God’s hope and God’s kind of belief is faith, and we are given that faith as His gift to us so we can believe and hope with the same assurance God has that He will bring it to pass! (See Eph 2:8). That certainly was the kind of faith our first century brothers and sisters had.
I have a question for you. We know the first Believers met house to house for the “apostles teaching, for fellowship, breaking of bread and for prayer” (Acts 2:42). But how could 12 apostles possibly meet with the thousands of Believers gathering in who knows how many houses every day? They didn’t have the scrolls available to them like we have our Bibles. So they had to be discussing what they had heard from the apostles when they had addressed them, which things we read in the New Testament, which include, incidentally, a plethora of references to Old Testament Scriptures. But you knew that.
The point here is, that these people were living out their lives together, and working out how to put what they were learning from the apostles into their already Torah-observant lives, just as Yeshua had taught His 12 disciples to do when they were just disciples and not yet apostles. They were learning to live in kingdom reality. They were living in the fulfillment of much of what God had promised to them through the Torah and the prophets in terms of His power and His presence and His healing and His love for Israel. True, they were still under the political domination of Rome. But through what Yeshua prayed, promised and demonstrated of His Kingdom while He was on the earth and through His resurrection, no longer did they see themselves as oppressed and subjugated. They were citizens of another Kingdom and their King ruled the whole earth. Fearless now as they saw how God’s promises of Messiah and of restoring His Kingdom sovereignty were being fulfilled. Having first hand knowledge of Yeshua’s resurrection they had no more fear of death. Their very existence and their destiny were radically changed as each person stepped into the Kingdom reality of God’s power in their lives. They became alive, dynamic and effective just as the Spirit of God was pervasive throughout their lives.
The religious leaders in Jerusalem had expected the Kingdom restoration to come with great judgment to sinners, but instead it reached out to all who would come, with grace and the delight of God’s presence among them all. The Kingdom of God proved to be a kingdom of freedom, love and joy, of inclusion not exclusion, of provision for one another, and for a sense of well-being in God. They were so empowered by the Spirit into such a dynamic force together that these Kingdom-of-God Yeshua followers changed the known world at that time, including Rome.
The early church was a society of those who had now chosen a lifestyle that may have been quite different than what they’d lived before becoming believers, for some more than others, especially for the Gentiles who began to come in, but they all became a part of the Kingdom willingly and in freedom of choice. They all made the adjustments in their lives needed to fit in with what God was doing in their midst with great joy and anticipation of even greater changes as Kingdom influence expanded. Society has been defined as “the private sphere of voluntary relationships.” They were in every way the “society” of the Kingdom of God by choice.
But succeeding generations quickly did away with the Hebrew foundation upon which this kingdom was established and soon the society of God’s people came under the obligation to participate in the State religion of “Christianity,” beginning with Constantine and forward so that the chief Bishop, eventually the Pope, served as both religious leader and political ruler. When the emperor Constantine, a Roman through and through, united the church and the State he rendered the Jews as the polar opposite of the Christians and neither the Jewish Messiah, nor His followers, were allowed to be Jewish anymore. We’re so used to it we don’t see how bizarre that is.
In contrast to the “society” of the early Believers, putting the church under State leadership as Constantine did, subjected the church to a “public sphere of external rules and institutions that rest upon compulsory power.” When the church became inseparable from the realm of the State, it was almost entirely corrupted into manifesting man’s ways on the earth, and often man’s worst ways, rather than God’s. No longer was life a matter of souls interacting with one another by God’s grace, living out their day-to-day lives together as the Spirit led them, in spontaneity and liberty. Now, under Constantine, following the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., the “church” morphed into an organization which bore little resemblance to that which was under the Lordship of the Spirit of God. Willingness and choice to follow God became instead a matter of obligatory powers of external conformity. Church history tells far too many horrible stories of the consequences people faced in great crises as they chose to follow their personal consciences putting them at great peril when in direct opposition to the powers of the prevailing political/religious culture.
The Reformation brought a radical change. But still, it was limited. There remains even in our churches today a kind of external conformity to the church culture of which we are still a part. There is still not the freedom and liberty of the early Believers. There are yet constraints on those we still identify as the “laity” to act in the church unless they receive the permission or sanction of the “clergy” and so consequently few people are actually doing “the work of the ministry” (Eph 4:12). How many people are sitting in the “audience” with giftings that have never been expressed or even identified. While it appears that every member of the early church functioned by the Spirit, only a select number do today. Most are spectators, not participators. This is not everywhere, of course, but it is still significantly prevalent.
While the early church lived primarily in community, we today are generally not living among one another so that we can continually share our lives as they did. So we miss regularly having lively discussions over dinners about what Scripture has to say. We are still to a great extent listening to one or two leaders that do not give us the full counsel of God because we’re only hearing it from through the gifting and perspective of one person, however anointed they may be. House churches or home groups have the definite advantage of being able to function like the early church with each person contributing to the discussion. “When you come together everyone has a hymn or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (1 Cor 14:26). We can infer from this that in order for the church to be properly strengthened, everyone should be functioning by the Spirit.
God has been in the process of restoring the giftings and their evident roles to the church in the last few decades, which had been non-existent in the church for centuries. Yet we are still for the most part not yet operating in the full capacity of what Scripture “promises.” Presently, our churches are led by a pastor which title is only mentioned once as “pastors and teachers” (Eph 4:12), while prophet, for instance, is mentioned over twenty times. We use the title of “pastor” but it’s possible that his gifting is more or other than just the gift of pastor-teacher. What his gift is will determine what the congregation is hearing from him.
If your pastor has the gift of teaching, you’ll get good Bible teaching but you may not be inspired to share with others outside the church. If the pastor has a gift of evangelism, likely the congregation hears what is primarily a salvation message every week and the messages might never get as deep as they would had there also been the input of the other leadership gifts. (That is not to say there shouldn’t be an invitation for people to come to the Lord in every service. It’s a given that there should be that opportunity.)
In the case of a pastor with a prophetic gifting, you’re likely to hear things that will express the heart of God and His intention for great things that will thrill and inspire you, but if you don’t have an anointed teacher operating as well, the Body will not know how to get there line upon line, or be able to recognize when there’s error creeping in, despite how great the vision may be.
Having mature apostolic input (Yes, there are apostles today; it’s a function, a role, not a title!) makes a tremendous difference in a congregation as the apostle will make sure the focus is on Yeshua Himself and that He is the central focus. He will help keep the congregation kingdom-minded and not just project-minded. He will also be able to see what gifting should be functioning where and likely, if he knows the people, be able to see who would fill what role. And he is able to properly direct the church into growth and multiplication like a father caring for his children.
I have had the privilege of being in the home of some house church leaders who were modeling house church for us over a period of days. About 12 of us had flown in for the occasion, two even from China. Two of the men had to leave early and it wasn’t until they left that I realized how very valuable the input they contributed was and why. The only analogy I can use to show you their mindset was to say they would get underneath to push you up into more of what you can be rather than stand over you and tell you what to do. At one point, one of them whispered a suggestion to me as to how to get out of the way to so as to inspire others to step out, rather than make it a teaching point for everyone else to hear. I have met some supposed apostles who have a “top of the pyramid” kind of attitude, but these men were to me the epitome of what an apostle should be – humble, father-like, tender, and even vulnerable before us, while encouraging us to be all we can be in God. After they left I found out how effective these two men have been in providing apostolic leadership to the house church movement around the world. I thought they had come to learn just as I had, they were that humble. Knowing them allowed me to have more insight into Paul’s heart in his writings and a longing for that kind of leadership in the Body of Messiah.
Please do not interpret what I am saying as being in any way frustrated with the status quo or being against the present church structure. I am not saying that by any means. To do so would be rebellion and that will surely not bring about God’s will. He has chosen to allow the church to function as we have been for His purposes. Godly leadership always is His protection and provision for us. But don’t be surprised if it begins to change so that the authority base is distributed over a wider range, and there is more freedom to function and for each person under the Spirit’s discipline, to contribute their part in their proper place. What I am sharing is to inspire your expectations for greater things, to encourage you to be praying for God’s fullness to come about in the spirit of peace. It will not all happen at once. Change is a process; it takes time. But we surely do live in a time of change, so may I suggest that you don’t let the banner over you be saying, “But we’ve always done it this way!”
God has made us promises of what the Body is ultimately to be like that He is resurrecting today. He has resurrected the gifts of the Holy Spirit and one by one, the five-fold ministries are moving into their proper roles in the church within recent years so that we are beginning to see, “some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service (ministry), to the building up of the body of Messiah until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God…” (Eph 4:12, 13). The gifts when exercised properly will build up the body in such a way that is unprecedented since the first century. Each cell in the Body equally alive and functioning in its maximum capacity. Notice, incidentally, that the work of these roles is so that the Body, not only the ones in the roles, does the work of ministry. Even the work of the evangelist is not to be the one that goes out to win souls, but his job is to equip the Body so that the Body goes out and wins soul!
God is also making transparent many of the denominational and ethnic walls that kept Believers apart from one another. I’ve seen it happen and it’s wonderful! When the Spirit is doing it, a unity develops among different churches in a city who might be found working together to accomplish what one church cannot do on their own. I think God must shower us with some of His joy in having His kids working together first of all, and secondly as we work to reach out to the needy or the unsaved together. It sure feels that way – joyful – to be involved in that kind of outreach. His joy! “How good and how pleasant it is when brothers live (and work) together in unity” (Ps 133:1).
But there are also predictions that we see coming to pass, which are not the same as promises – the conflicts in the Middle East, for instance, as Israel is forced by the world’s (demonic) powers to give up more and more of her small parcel of land. Still, His promises prevail and though “the nations be aroused (against Israel)…the Lord roars from Zion, and utters His voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth tremble. But the Lord is a refuge for His people and a strong hold to the sons of Israel…Judah will be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem for all generations…for the Lord dwells in Zion” (Joel 3:12a, 16, 20, 21). God is still the God of promises and the descendents of Abraham and those who are sons and daughters of Abraham by faith are still looking to God to fulfill His promises regarding that same promised land. Israel is still the sign of the whole earth being under God’s sovereign Lordship. No matter what it looks like at any given time, God remains the protector of Israel and the vindicator of His promises to her, even to Abraham.
We are told in Scripture that in a day when there is darkness upon the earth, the glory of the Lord will rise upon those who are truly His (See Is 60:1). There is no doubt that godlessness is in the earth today. Yet the profound promise of God (and my personal favorite Scripture) is that, “the people who know their God will display strength and take action. And those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many…and those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 11:32, 32; 12:3). Those are promises that no matter what, we have opportunity in God to believe Him and to be His instruments for righteousness in the earth. I want to be one of those folks. How about you? Are those promises we can believe Him for together?
There is a shift today into such Kingdom reality. As Sid’s guests attest, we are beginning to see evidences of the true church moving out of where we’ve been living in relative powerlessness and ineffectiveness and moving toward the promised land of Biblical integrity, vitality and awesome manifestations of God’s glory. At the same time, what was imposed upon us by “high church” and even State leadership, which has kept God’s people only minimally interacting as souls in search of more of God together, no longer holds the interest of those who want more intimacy with God and other Believers. He is stirring it in our hearts because it’s what God is doing in His people to prepare our hearts for the soon return of His Son for His bride.
Reprint of this article is permitted as long as you use the following; Use by permission by Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2008.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.