J and K are leading a team in a major city by the sea in closed East Asia. Of course I can't say where it is or give their real names. Ironically I am only two degrees of separation from J and K as my wife Robin helped lead the first-ever project to their campus.
While J was with us in Fort Collins this past summer, K was back in Virginia with their little girl. Actually that week they celebrated their 2nd anniversary. My advice to J would be to make it up by taking K on a date donning some silk pajamas like most people in your city do and go to a nice restaurant with a karaoke bar and sing "Unchained Melody".
Speaking of unchained... I was reading over the weekend the end of the book of Acts. The last 6 ½ chapters are about Paul being arrested and waiting around for a trial. Paul is finally taken to Rome where he is under house arrest chained to a guard. "For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ." Talk about a house church movement! Paul was imprisoned in chains but his ministry was unchained.
It seems like an odd way to end the story of the Acts of the Apostles. It's almost like you expect there must be another book missing from Luke that makes up a trilogy. The circumstances that Paul was under seem rather bizarre too. I mean who would want to be on a two-year stint in Rome and never leave their flat to even visit an Italian cafe? If I was writing the story I might back up and have King Agrippa and his wife Bernice be fully persuaded and allowing the gospel to really be unhindered. But I am not writing this story - God is!
Paul was chained, his ministry was not. It was without hindrance despite his being confined for two whole years. It was not hindered by a crazy cast of authority dudes – neither by the Sanhedrin, Felix, Festus, King Agrippa nor Nero. Maybe it is not a bad way to end the story after all but a perfect transition into the rest of the story. Maybe this is how the message of the kingdom can go be unhindered as we write the next chapter of Acts. Maybe it’s a reminder to us when we think something is a hindrance to the gospel that in reality God is still calling the shots.
There are two aspects that stand out to me from this passage that realte the unchained ministry of the kingdom.
Paul's Bold Preaching and Teaching - Luke writes that he 'boldly preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.' Every time Paul has an opportunity to defend himself in these last few chapters, he takes it as if they invited him to preach a sermon. He probably preached for two years to those guarding him too. He does it boldly.
It is also what he preached. Luke begins his gospel with Gabriel saying to Mary that Jesus’ kingdom will never end. It is this kingdom message that Paul preached and of this King that he taught. We know from other passages that Paul's boldness was tied to an eternal perspective and the reality that we will stand before this King one day. Boldness trumps things that seem to be hindrances every time.
The Holy Spirit – While this passage at the close of Acts doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit directly, Luke does over and over again. Luke begins his first book writing about how the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary and the power of God will overshadow her bringing about the incarnate birth of this Forever King. He begins his 2nd book with the Holy Spirit coming upon this same Mary along with 120 or so others. The power of God overshadowed them in a miraculous way bringing about the birth of the church and the kingdom message to the world.
All throughout his gospel and especially in his sequel, Luke writes about circumstances that seemingly hinder the message when in fact the message of the kingdom is totally unhindered because the Spirit is in control. You can jail Peter, stone Stephen, behead James, leave Paul for dead in Lystra, cause a riot in Ephesus, crucify our Lord and leave Him in the grave for three day but the kingdom message is unchained.
So it doesn’t matter if you might be serving in a closed country like J and K – that government or any government is not in authority, He is. It doesn’t matter if it seems like cultural religion or post-modern indifference controls the thoughts of students you and your team interact with, He is building his kingdom and the gates of hell cannot hold it back. The ministry of the kingdom is an unchained melody. It is a melody of forgiveness that will be sung in every nation and in every tongue by some really righteous brothers... and sisters. It is a song of the King’s reign and of One who sets the captives free.
It is an unchained melody we can sing with boldness and under the mighty overshadowing on the Holy Spirit… to the sea, to the sea. And hell doesn't stand a ghost of a chance.