Read Acts 2
In Acts 2 we see the earliest Christian community joining together in fellowship. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
I’ve often turned to this passage and those that follow for instruction concerning the formation of the people of God. Amidst all the programs that can make up a church’s calendar, these four activities are the ideal; the study of God’s Word, Prayer, Fellowship, and Breaking of Bread (I take “breaking of bread” to mean the Holy Communion, others do not agree).
In the following verses (43-47) we discover that the people of God are transformed by their devotion to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers. We see a people who worship and praise God daily, live generous lives towards one another, hold all things in common and who also enjoy the favor of the Lord.
The ideal Christian community is this: one that cares for the needs of each other and praises God in the process. That’s precisely the community we see in Acts 2:42-47.
I long for that type of Christian community. I suppose, the whole world longs for it, whether they realize it or not. True Christian community appears to be a group of forgiving, kind, gracious people towards one another who are blessed by God and praise Him in the process.
It is my deep longing for the Church to be such a community today. Admittedly, what is presented us in the book of Acts is merely an ideal. I have no doubt that it happened, but we find later on that things are not perfect as the church expands beyond Jerusalem. Paul’s letter direct us that Christian community is riddled with problems. The difficulties that proceed are problems that we still see today; selfishness, greed, sexual immorality, corruption of power and so much more. Paul dealt with it in the churches he ministered to and we still deal with it today.
But for all the things that threaten Christian community, there are certain activities we need to continue in as followers of Jesus. Those activities would be Study, Fellowship, Prayer and Worship (Breaking of Bread and Praise of God).
In a world that is full of contrast, driving a wedge between male and female, black and white (and every shade in between), economic divide and more, Christian community comes together in four activities that bring transformation. This transformation pushes us towards having “all things in common” (2:44).
We become the Christian community we are called to be through study, fellowship, prayer and breaking bread together. Something about those divinely inspired activities brings us together and brings us closer to God as well. Please, study, pray, be a part of a loving church family that remembers our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And perhaps, a commitment to such activities will transform you and the wider Church into a family that looks like that first church family, all for the glory of God.
Lord, teach us to pray. Through our devotion to prayer, transform us into a loving community that cares for the needs of each other, all for your praise and glory.
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I’ve encouraged the congregation I serve to study the book of Acts for the next several weeks. This study is centered on the early church’s use of prayer. As we read through the book of Acts, we might discover that the early church was a people devoted to prayer. There are so many instances of prayer in Acts (2:42, 6:4-6, 10:9, 13:3, 28:8) which conducts itself like a prayer journal for the early church.
The importance of prayer for the disciples is seen in Acts 1.
Luke picks up the story right where he left off in his previous book, the Gospel of Luke. In the introduction, we see Jesus ascend and teaching the disciples that they will receive the Spirit of God. The story transitions though, towards the disciples and the life of the early church. Acts teaches us about what the Disciples and Church are up to, now that Jesus is raised from the dead and ascended to the throne of God.
At first, they can’t help but stare up in the sky, but some white robed men told them that Jesus will return as he left. Suggesting that they won’t know when Jesus will come back, so don’t spend the rest of your life staring up!
In 1:12, the disciples make a hop, skip and jump, a mile and a half away journey to the Mount of Olives. When they entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying. The same disciples minus Judas, introduced in Luke 6:14-16, plus many others, including women and Jesus’ own mother, gathered together and devoted themselves to prayer.
Our first instance of prayer in the book of Acts, comes off the tails of the risen and ascended Jesus. What will come of this ragtag group of believers in Jesus? About 120 people are there. A great first start to a church, for sure. What are they to do? What would God want of them?
Some of them like looking up, hoping that Jesus would return. The white robed men rhetorically suggest that it isn’t about looking up. Jesus will come back as he left.
Thus, the activity goes from looking up, and transitions towards prayer. In one single verse, we see the great Christian hope of prayer.
The people leave the city of Jerusalem, arrive in the Mount of Olives, and devote themselves to prayer. The church transitions from hoping for the Messiah, to recognizing, “We had him here with us” (That’s what Peter will highlight in the following verses). Now that they had their Messiah, and he will return as he left, unexpectedly and at his own volition. The disciples bow in prayer.
From standing and gazing, the disciples now have a posture of prayer.
It’s a transition we all need, and will all go through as Christians. As we gaze and wonder at the beauty, grace, mercy and love revealed us in Jesus. As we find ourselves longing and gazing for the return of Jesus as well, I suggest we heed the advice of the two robed men. “Why do you look up?” and I suggest, “When you can kneel in prayer?” The transition should be a natural one for Christians. We now have access to God the Father, through the Son Jesus Christ. Why look for the return of Jesus when we can share with him and talk to him today?
Why stare to the sky when you can kneel in prayer? Be a people, devoted to prayer this day.
My prayer for us:
Lord, teach us to pray like the early church, in an earnest daily devotion for your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
This morning, I overheard someone say, "What do you want to do today?" It immediately reminded me of Pinky and the Brain from the old TV show Animaniacs.
I offered up, "Try to take over the world!"
They didn't get it. If you don't know anything about Pinky and the Brain, you should youtube it, because its great.
This Sunday, we will talk about Dad's, for sure. But we will also be talking about James and John, in Mark 10, looking to be seated at the right and left of Jesus in his glory.
They were looking for power and position. Jesus teaches them that its about sacrifice and suffering (Drink/Baptism). Following him is about the cross and humility. Not about wielding power the way the world does. The world is filled with pinky's and brain's - trying to take it over - through power, influence, money, manipulation ... etc.
What do you want to do today? What will you do with your life today? Try to take over your little bit of the world?
How about, be transformed by Christ and walk the road of sacrifice and suffering for the sake of God's kingdom?
The point, if there is one, I suppose is this: Pinky and the Brain are hilarious, but they never succeed, that I'm aware of, in taking over the world. They come close. But no cigar!
It's not about power for us as Christians. It's about sacrifice, suffering and service for Jesus our King.
Father's Day is just around the corner, so I thought I might pay heed to the Hallmark Holiday!
In Ephesians 5:21 through the beginning of chapter 6, we see Paul speaking about submission. It's a beautiful text that challenges us to love one another and value the needs of others before our own.
"Father's, do not exasperate your children," Paul says.
I suppose, centuries ago, the exasperation that took place for children would have been for negligence of proper care and protection. I don't know of any "children's rights advocates" back then. What Paul said here, is, most likely, unheard of in his day. It's the father's in the relationship who had the right to be as harsh as they wanted, I imagine. I'm sure kids got the table scraps after the meal too.
Today, I think children experience a different exasperation. Children are exasperated by the complete lack of boundaries. Exasperated by a lack of a presence of a father, or father-figure in their life. Children are exasperated by an over saturation of media and content to consume.
For wildly different reasons, on basically two ends of the spectrum, we see the need for father still not not exasperate their children.
We've effectively exasperated our children by not wanting to exasperate them.
The point of the scripture isn't that we let our children get away with anything, having whatever they want. The text obviously is opposed to any sort of child neglect and abuse. So, what is the text teaching us, specifically fathers about their relationship with their children?
I draw our attention to the entire passage because I want us to see something that is underlying. That is, the ministry of dignity. Do we bring dignity to those that society says has none? Women/wives, often excluded to the outer margins of importance in Paul's world, suddenly are worth loving as Christ loved the church. Husbands are to love their wives as Jesus loved the church.
That's changing things! And fathers are challenged to care for their children in a new way as well. They bring them dignity and worth.
The more I think about this interpretation, the more I simply reflect on the life and ministry of Jesus. How much of Jesus' ministry was simply about giving dignity back to people who were excluded from society, cast off as sinners, who were best left alone, avoided and ostracized? Jesus speaks with a woman he culturally wasn't supposed to with the woman at the well. Throughout the Gospels we are told that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus was willing to associate with the lowly, the outcast, the poor and the forgotten of society.
People without any dignity by our measure, Jesus not only talks to them, he eats with them too!
I've tried figuring out each day what it means to seek first God's kingdom. I'm convinced that the most simple form of pursuing the kingdom in application is to say, "How might I bring dignity, value and worth to someone who feels like they don't have any at all?"
That might mean caring for the poor one moment, listening well to someone who never gets listened to, or simply playing with my children letting them know I value them more than the next thing on my list. It varies each day, but every day is a day to show people they are loved by God, are His Children and can have a place in God's Kingdom.
Who in your circle of relationships is a person neglected and viewed as a lesser person?
How can you show them specifically that they are valued by God, loved so much that Jesus gave his life for them?
This week, I preach on the text of the Rich man and Lazarus. It's found in Luke 16.
The Rich man is loaded. He has all he needs. Then there is Lazarus. He's a poor man. He's an outcast, licked by dogs. He's passed by and eats the droppings off the table of the Rich man.
The Rich man overlooks the poor man. He closes his ear to the needs of Lazarus.
Proverbs 21:13 (NRSV)
13 If you close your ear to the cry of the poor,
you will cry out and not be heard.
They both die. Lazarus goes to be with Abraham, while the Rich man is greatly separated and in a place of suffering. He longs for Lazarus to notice and care for him.
There is a great reversal in the story that doesn't bode well for the Rich man. He cries out and he isn't heard. More precisely, the Rich man isn't helped. It's the first time in a long time where he makes a request that goes unanswered, unmet.
He's treated how he treated Lazarus before they both died.
Don't get lost in who gets in to heaven and hell. I don't think it's about that.
I think it is about listening to the needs of others and responding in kindness, generosity and love in a way that brings honor to God.
God, open our ears to the cry of the poor,
Let their suffering be no more
As we hear and see their need
before you we plead
to make your world right
and bring your Kingdom here in full view of our sight.
Old Nebby and Christianity by Force
Daniel is one of my favorite books in all of the Bible. I love the stories of faithful Hebrews in the midst of incredible circumstances. We have much to learn from the book about loyalty to God, and remaining faithful to Him.
Remember the story of Nebuchadnezzar and his giant chocolate bunny, or I mean the graven image made of gold? Old Nebby forced everyone into the worship of this idol. Three Hebrew boys were the heroines of the story, who stood strong for the beliefs and refused to worship the image of gold, even with the threat of death by fiery furnace. We know these three Hebrew boys, most popularly as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. A long story short, the boys stay faithful, get thrown into the furnace, and God protects them. They don’t die. Nebby is convinced their God is the true God. It’s a miraculous turn of events!
I’ve never made this association before, so it might be out of left field. So forgive me if you disagree. But think about this:
How often as Christians do we use the same message as Nebby to get adherents to Christianity as Nebby did to get adherent to his religion?
What I mean is, much of what we hear today and have heard for a long time is a forceful sort of worship of God. Much of the way we think about Christianity is that of the type of belief that Nebuchadnezzar proposes to the Hebrew boys was force. “Worship this image, or else, suffer flames.”
Instead of an invitation to new life in Jesus Christ, we make it more about the consequences of not living a life devoted to God. WE invite people under threat: “Worship God, or else!”
What are we communicating about the God we love?
That certainly isn’t the way the boys think about the Lord Almighty, God of Israel.
They see their God worth going into a furnace for, and if he saves them (which they believe him to have the power to do) then great, and if not, they will die faithful.
I suppose that I wouldn’t mind having that type of faith. Instead of viewing God as some sort of fire-insurance, my hope is that I would instead view Him as worth going into the fire for.
We need to help people see what they are missing, and that is a God worth dying for, worthy of our whole devotion.
We spoke in my Sunday School class yesterday about sharing the hope of salvation with others. The hard question came up, “How do we share with people who know all that we stand for, even to the point of agreeing, but they don’t want to change?” I still don’t know that I have an answer to that question. But as I reflect further on this I can’t help but think the effectiveness of the three Hebrew boys by remaining faithful, despite incredible circumstances. Perhaps, that’s all we really have going for us: faithfulness in all circumstances.
Is our faith a matter of fire-insurance, or the hope that even in the midst of the flames, our God is with us?
Let’s consider how we think about our relationship with God. Spiritual development for us must move us from viewing Christianity as fire-insurance, a get out of hell card, to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of Christianity as an initiation to enjoy the new Kingdom life today, made possible in Jesus Christ our King.
In the news cycle today you are going to hear about a guy who posed as a bishop trying to get in with the Cardinals for their meeting about the Pope. I'm not entirely sure as to what he was trying to accomplish. I suppose it was, "Let's see how far I can get until they notice that I don't belong."
There are all kinds of applications for a preacher here. I suppose it's going to hit a sermon-near-you in this weeks sermon.
What gave the guy away was his fedora. I don't know why he wanted to wear one, but he would have gotten a lot further had he not.
I have a point, and here it is: Don't be an imposter. We ought to study Jesus and strive to be like him, not just look the part of being a Christian.
Colossians 3:12 "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
Paul reminds us of our holy place as a dearly loved and chosen people. We are loved by God and called to wear compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Take time to study Jesus and become like him.
When God sets forth his plan for the Israelite community, God provides for them a way forward for reconciliation. The entire book of Leviticus is on the theme of reconciliation and God setting apart the Priests for the Holy work of offering sacrifices for atonement and worship.. God knows this community will need forgiveness, and he provides a way for them to do it.
Jesus provides a similar plan for the community of believers that he is forming, the Church.. In Matthew 18, Jesus provides a way for reconciliation, the plan includes: endless forgiveness and approaching a lost brother or sister and righting differences between each other in community.
Jesus sets forth a community that is all about restoring a lost brother or sister, or as he puts it, finding the lost sheep.. Part of what makes the Church a special community is its willingness to forgive one another and its care for the least.
I am encouraged that Jesus knows we are going to sin. He recognizes the need and provides a way for us to enjoy community together. The key to it: Forgiveness.
We as the church are called to forgive one another, and God has set forth his plan in Matthew 18.
Who needs forgiveness today? Is there a lost sheep you need to reach out to?
Wendy and I are in the midst of debate concerning where you read the Bible. I recently was convicted that my Bible reading shouldn't be in the bathroom. If you consider how we have had the Bible read throughout the generations, it seems awfully irreverent and disrespectful to read the Bible while having a bowel movement.
I know it's the few quiet places in the world, but if it's quiet that you need, wake up earlier. That's what I say.
Anyways, Wendy and I are on a Bible reading adventure, where we need all the time we can get. It's the season of Lent, give up on something and devote your life ever more fervently to God.
Remember, we do not live on bread alone, but the very word of God! Deuteronomy 8:3
The true sense of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is rooted in Psalm 23. He is the good and beautiful shepherd who leads his people to renewal, provision and protection. The true and loving shepherd guides his people to a life rid from the fear of evil and towards the place of peace. This shepherd take so serious his role, at the sight of evil, at the very presence of evil, he gives of his life for his sheep. This friends is the compelling love of God. Greater love is this Jesus who gave of his life for us.
John 10:1-18 & Psalm 23.