Thursday, August 18, 2011

Practical Apps from the Book of Acts: The Church

Did you ever wonder what a true, “Christian” church should be like? We seem to have lots of different ideas today on “how to do church.” (By the way, I really hate that phrase but it seems to be used a lot.) As usual, I don’t want to seek out the opinions of man, but would rather look to the Bible for my answer to this particular question. There are many passages in various books of the New Testament that teach us about how the church should operate and I don’t think most of it was cultural or only for a certain time period. I think that they were given for all of the body of Christ, for the entire church age, to help keep us on track. If you look ahead, to the book of Revelation, you will see what seven local churches got commended for and what they were rebuked for. I truly believe, that following the examples and instruction given to us in God’s Word, will bring the commendation of the Lord, but straying from that will bring His rebuke. So let’s look at our earliest example of “the church” of Jesus Christ.

At the end of chapter 2 (starting in verse 42) in the book of Acts, we get a good look at this first body of believers. Remember, this was immediately after a huge harvest of souls. Three thousand believers were added to this church in Jerusalem after Peter preached the gospel, accompanied by signs and wonders. The author of the book, Dr Luke, then goes on to tell us what these believers did.

In verse 42 we are told that they devoted themselves to four things; the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer. The words “devoted themselves” (NIV, ESV), are translated “continued steadfastly” in the KJV and NKJV Let’s take these one at a time.

1.    The apostles’ teaching: A good question then, is what did they teach? Well, each in their own way, inspired by the Holy Spirit, taught the gospel (good news) of salvation by grace, through faith, by the completed work and shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. They could do this because they were handpicked by Jesus for this calling.  By inspiration of the Spirit, they were able to show how the Old Testament scriptures foretold the coming of Messiah and pointed solely to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of those prophecies. We find this as we read the rest of the book of Acts. This, along with the letters directed to the churches, became the New Testament Scriptures.

2.    Fellowship: The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia. The construction literally is translated “fellow participant.”  These believers were participating with each other in their Christian lives. That demonstrates to us that Christianity is not a solitary experience but must be shared with others. The next two points, I believe, give us some of the ways they experienced that fellowship

3.    Breaking of Bread: This was an expression of eating together, but it may also have meant sharing of communion, which Jesus had instituted on His last night with the disciples. The act of eating together in this culture was huge. It represented a close bond with the person or persons you shared that meal with. That is why the Pharisees were so upset at Jesus, who would eat meals with anyone, including “tax collectors and sinners.” To them, it meant that he was one of them (Mt 9:10-13), which was abhorrent to a devout Jew. This shows how important the sharing of meals was in this culture.

4.    Prayer: Now prayer would not be a new thing for these early Jewish believers. In following the law, they would most likely pray often. How they prayed though, surely changed. Jesus had given the disciples a model for prayer so that they would not speak out the vain repetitions that they were used to (See Mt 6:5-13), but in a meaningful, relational way with their Heavenly Father. In the rest of the New Testament, we can see how the apostles had constant and intimate prayer lives.

It is interesting that one more thing is mentioned about what these early believers did. Look at verses 44 and 45. It says that the believers were together and had everything in common, even to the point that they would sell their possessions and goods, giving to those who had need.

Now this practice, I believe, has been misinterpreted and led to some people believing that Christians should sell all their worldly possessions and live in communes. In fact during the Jesus People movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, many young Christians did just that. Though well intentioned, most of these turned out to be, well, let’s be generous and say, problematic.

If you look closely at what the early believers really did, it was quite different. First of all, they did not all live together. Verse 46 shows us that they were together in the temple courts. It then says that they broke bread together in their homes. When it talks about selling their goods, it was voluntary and the money was not distributed evenly to everyone, it was given to those who had need. It certainly does show a willingness to give sacrificially to the needy among the believers; however, we do not see this practice continued for a long period of time, like we do the other four practices. It may be that the first believers were anticipating the soon return of Jesus and so were not very materially oriented.

Either way, we can see what the early church thought was important and it gives us a wonderful picture of what should be important in the “Body of Christ” today. I don’t think that it is an accident that the first practice mentioned is the study of the Word of God. If we do not have one single basis for doctrine, we will certainly go astray. We see that clearly by what is happening in many so called evangelical churches today. If the Bible does not contain infallible, absolute truth, what should we base our beliefs in?  We can make up any type of religion we want and call it Christianity. No, we need to follow the lead of the early church and continue steadfastly in the study of God’s Word.

It is also essential for us as Christians, to maintain the practices of fellowship. Breaking bread together has such an impact on our relationships. It is hard to not get along with folks that you share meals with. Remember that Jesus said that they (the world), would know that we are His disciples by our love one for another. (Jn 13:34) I believe that this also included communion. The Lord’s Supper brings us together to remember the sacrifice the Lord made for each one of us and together we proclaim His death until He comes. (1Co 11:2)

Now, whether or not Luke was speaking of individual prayer or corporate prayer, we need to be involved with both. Praying together will help bring us together, because we put aside our own will and seek the Lord’s will in prayer. That is why Jesus, in teaching the disciples how to pray, included, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” The chief objective of prayer is get our will aligned with His will, not the other way around.

Notice also in verses 46 and 47, that they were glad, had sincere hearts, and praised God. The result was that the Lord added daily to their number. You see, the Body of Christ, when following this pattern will result in fruits of evangelism. People are naturally attracted to others who have joy and sincerity in their lives.

 We seem to want to make this idea of what “church” should be very complicated. I would very humbly like to suggest that it is not. We have a beautiful model of the effective church. I say, “Let’s follow that.”

Game plan: Read the scripture references listed above. Ask the Lord to reveal to you where you fit into this picture and if you are not currently in fellowship with other Bible believing Christians, seek one out immediately and get involved.

May God bless you as you continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ


Friday, August 5, 2011

Practical Apps from the Book of Acts: Worth the Wait

Ahhh, the Book of Acts. It seems that over the years this book has become controversial. I find that very interesting. It begs the question, why? I think it is because so much of Acts has to do with the miraculous works of the Holy Spirit. Let’s face it; many people today just don't want to believe in a supernatural power that is still working in today's world. As usual, I could be wrong.

Unfortunately, because of that perception, many people overlook or completely ignore the book of Acts. Some even say that it is only history and should not be used to teach theology. What? Look at what it says in 2 Tim 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

So let's put that debate to rest once and for all!

I believe that the book of Acts, though it certainly does tell of the mighty and miraculous works of the Holy Spirit, has a plethora (if I might use a word borrowed from El Jefe in the Three Amigos) of practical application for us. I hope you will join me for the next few weeks and soak up the amazing amount of insight and application that the book of Acts has to offer.

OK, but you titled this one “Worth the Wait?” What is worth the wait? I don't have time to wait. I have too much to do. Got to get the kids to practice, stop off at Taco Bell to grab some food, get my dry cleaning(does anybody do that anymore?), and check my facebook posts. I can't wait! Sound familiar?

We live in a fast moving society today and waiting does not seem practical and sometimes it is even frowned upon and looked at as non productive.

But, God says that sometimes we should wait on Him.*

In Acts 1, Jesus had appeared to the disciples after His resurrection. Before He ascended into heaven, He instructed them to wait in Jerusalem. What were they to wait for? Let's read the verses. Acts 1:4-5
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.
5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

If you follow the narrative, the disciples seem to ignore what Jesus says. They don’t ask Him anything about what the baptism of the Spirit is all about. Instead, they ask Him the question that has continually been on their minds, even before His death and resurrection. They want to know if that means He will then restore the kingdom of Israel. They still don’t understand the purpose of His life, death and resurrection. Why?

Because they have not yet received the very promise Jesus is making to them now, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Without that, they cannot understand the nature and purpose of Jesus’ mission.

So, what happened? Well, the disciples did return to Jerusalem and waited as they were instructed, but I can’t help but think they still got a little ahead of themselves. Before they received the promised Holy Spirit, they decided to choose one to take the place of Judas Iscariot, who had betrayed the Lord and then committed suicide. They used a traditional method of praying and asking the Lord to show them who to choose by casting lots. The interesting thing about this is that you never hear of that method being used again. It was the Old Testament way, under the Old Covenant. Jesus had told them in the upper room that they were to live under a New Covenant. They would no longer rely on the old methods, but instead on the guidance of the Holy Spirit that they were supposed to be waiting for.

The result of this is that they chose a believer named Matthias. It is interesting that you never hear about him again in scripture. As we will find our later, God had someone else in mind.

So where does the “worth the wait” come in. Just read Acts, chapter 2, verses 1-13. In those verses, you will see the beginning of the miraculous works of the promised Holy Spirit of God. On the day of Pentecost (feast of harvest or day of first fruits), the Holy Spirit descended upon them and they began to speak in languages that they themselves did not know, but that people from different nations understood. Wow, would that be worth waiting for? Well there is more to the story.

Peter began to preach the gospel, explaining what was taking place and three thousand people became believers in Jesus Christ! The church, that Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against, had begun in earnest. I think you would agree that would be worth the wait! From this point on, the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of the disciples, who would now be called apostles, to the message of the gospel. It was not just about the restoration of Israel to its’ former glory. It was about bringing salvation to all who would trust in Jesus Christ for that salvation.

The application is simple. We should not be afraid to wait for the moving of the Holy Spirit. For us, in the fast paced society we live in, it can be difficult but it can surely be worth it. Often times, we move before the Holy Spirit has directed us to. That can lead to failure and discouragement. I know, because I have done that many times in my own life. When we follow His timing, it leads to victory and joy. I admit, sometimes it is hard to know when to wait and when to move. I can only say that this is something you learn by walking closely with the Lord and continually seeking His will and His timing.

But, I can say this with great confidence. When you do wait on the Lord and seek His perfect timing, it is always worth it!

Ps 27:14, 33:20, 37:7, 37:34, 38:15, 119:166, 130:5. Isa 8:17, 40:31. Lam 3:26. Zep 3:8, Ro 8:23, 25. 1 Co 1:7, 4:5. 1Th 1:10. Tit 2:13. Jude 21

Game Plan: Read the above verses as well as the passages in Acts. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your reading and teach you about what it means to wait on the Lord

God bless you as you continue to study His word and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ