Posts Tagged ‘The Church’

1.  Epistemic Hubris

Have you heard this from someone recently? That “WE CANNOT KNOW, with certainty, what God has revealed so anyone who thinks he does is proud? We must, rather, (they say) embrace God as mystery?”

In light of this shouldn’t we be asking the following: Is not this assertion itself a dogma with affirmations and denials? Is not this itself a statement of knowledge? Is “we cannot know with certainty” not itself an assertion of KNOWLEDGE (a dogmatic assertion) as THE WAY to look at Scripture? Whether conscious of it or not, this is what is called “double-talk” and those who believe this are doing the very thing they claim to despise, even in the very speaking of it.

Good point!

HT: Reformation Theology via Christian Striver

2.  Crisis in Swaziland

One in three Swazi women have suffered some form of sexual abuse as a child; one in four experienced physical violence, a new United Nations survey revealed.

The study by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the first of its kind conducted in a country where anecdotal evidence suggests an alarming number of female children are victims of abuse. More disconcertingly still, the mushrooming population of orphans and vulnerable children in Swaziland provide yet more opportunities for sexual exploitation to occur.

In two years, 200,000 Swazi children will have been orphaned by AIDS – more than one-fifth of the current population, according to UNICEF. With HIV prevalence at 33.4 percent among people aged between 15 and 49, the country has the world’s highest infection rate. As a result, life expectancy has halved from nearly 60 years in the 1990s to just over 30 years today.

Source: IRIN

HT: Seth Barnes – he lists ways you can help, so check his blog post out.

3.  And just because… Love for the Ewoks – awesome tribute of these furry creatures from the Return of the Jedi.

HT: Joshua Griffin

4.  Pray for Myanmar

Source: NASA

I would encourage you to donate too – Food for the Hungry is a great organization who plans to respond to the needs there.

John Piper also lists six ways we can respond.

5.  The Federal budget crisis is explained over at SmartChristian.com.

6.  Al Mohler wrote earlier this week about the birth of Trig Paxson Van Palin on April 18.  He is the son of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin.  Palin’s son, Trig, was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome.  It didn’t matter to the Palin’s, they chose life.

The Palins would not even consider aborting their baby. “We’ve both been very vocal about being pro-life,” Governor Palin said. “We understand that every innocent life has wonderful potential.”

She loves her baby boy and is proud of him. “I’m looking at him right now, and I see perfection,” Palin told the Associated Press. “Yeah, he has an extra chromosome. I keep thinking, in our world, what is normal and what is perfect?”

Some ethicists now go so far as to argue for a “duty” to abort a baby with a Down diagnosis. This is an assault upon the dignity of every human being. The fact that so few Down syndrome babies now make it to birth is a sign that America is making its own pact with the Culture of Death.

HT: Justin Taylor

7.  John Piper asks “Do People Bore You?”  He wants to encourage us to move toward people as the lack of doing just that is a barrier to personal evangelism.

8.  You can read about the history of unbelief as M.Z. Hemingway writes “Skepticism, Agnosticism and Atheism: A Brief History of Unbelief” over at Modern Reformation.

The last two years have been good for atheism. A rash of books making the case for unbelief, including Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006) and Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007), have sold millions of copies. Strident atheist Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, one of his atheistic tomes designed to rescue children from belief in God, was made into a movie. Even pop star Elton John got into the act, calling for a ban on religion. Leaders of the so-called New Atheism are aggressive and proselytizing. They don’t just condemn belief in God; they also condemn respect for belief in God.

But how new is the New Atheism? It is said best in Ecclesiastes 1:9: “There is nothing new under the sun.” To be sure, explicit and public atheism is a somewhat new phenomenon. But atheism, agnosticism, and good old-fashioned doubt have strong and lengthy histories worth learning. Because atheism is parasitic on theism and even more on Christianity, to learn the history of atheism is to learn the history of the church.

Take the New Atheist creed of “no heaven, no hell, just science,” which articulates the widely held division in modern thought between faith and reason. To fully understand the story of that division, it is wise to consider the creation of the world as told in Genesis. We learn from Moses that the Creator is distinct and different from the created world. Where ancient mythologies saw gods as personifications of natural phenomena such as rain and fire, ancient Israel viewed nature as separate from God and man. God created nature and man was its steward. Nature is not to be worshiped, God alone is. Nature and the natural process in and of themselves are not divine. God, apart from a few notable exceptions, doesn’t speak to his people through nature but through historic events such as deliverance from Egypt. It is wise to remember as we proceed that this separation between nature and God is a biblical precept.  (Be sure to read the rest)

HT: The Wittenberg Door

9.  Stand to Reason’s publication – Solid Ground, offers a crash course on critical thinking.

HT: Barry Carey

10.  Matthew Lee Anderson asks, “can men and women be friends?”  He doesn’t think so.

My provisional answer, which is driven largely by my experience, is that any young people seeking to find a spouse would do better (oddly) to cultivate friendships with their same sex while viewing the opposite sex through a strictly romantic lense.  Keeping the roles and relationships separate allows us to have more clarity on our own feelings and behaviors in each relationship.  I have seen many a person (guy and girl!) unwittingly become emotionally tied to someone who was “just a friend,” only to be heartbroken when they pursued someone else.

Men and women seeking to marry should not deny the role that sexuality plays in their interaction with the opposite sex.   To do so is ultimately to fall prey to a gnosticism–that is, a denial of the body–which ironically leads to a weakened ability to control the impulses of the body.  Is there any wonder why affairs often start between people who claim to be “just friends?”

I don’t agree with his position entirely, while I do recognize his concerns.  I do think platonic relationships are possible between the sexes.  Since I am a married man I exercise caution – like never meeting privately when alone… pursue relationships as a couple, not an individuals, etc.  Even in my role with Serve Our Youth Network (when I sometimes have to meet with females for recruitment/networking purposes) I do not meet with individual females even in public at night – it seems too date-like.

What do you think?

11.  Michael Patton is asked if he allows women to teach men.  I don’t agree entirely with his position, but I liked his reasoning.

12.  C.J. Mahaney did a blog series on Modesty – check it out.

13.  Tim Challies’ review of Shane Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution.  Pretty insightful, and pretty much brings to light some of the concerns that I have with Shane Claiborne while at the same time recognizing that he does rightly criticize the North American church and that is needed.

14.  Great quote from Puritan theologian John Owen which serves as a warning for pastors.

“It is not to learn the form of the doctrine of godliness, but to get the power of it implanted in our souls. And this is an eminent means of our making a progress in the knowledge of the truth. To seek after mere notions of truth, without an endeavor after an experience of its power in our hearts, is not the way to increase our understanding in spiritual things….Men may have in their study of the scripture other ends also, as the profit and edification of others; but if this conforming of their own souls unto the power of the word be not fixed in the first place in their minds, they do not strive lawfully nor will be crowned.”

HT: Irish Calvinist

15.  Joe Carter’s thoughts on the Evangelical Manifesto.

16.  Here are 12 spiritual lessons from Narnia: Prince Caspian.

17.  Christ Against the Multiculturalists by Stephen H. Web

A snippet below… read the whole thing.

Here is how the game is played: They will first try to convince you that you are a racist, a sexist, and an enemy of social justice. Then they will argue that the victims of racism, sexism, and cultural elitism have a privileged view of these issues. It is as if the victim of the crime were to be given the first, last, and only word in a trial, with no cross-examination and no other witnesses called. Your job as a student in the multicultural classroom is to grant unquestioned authority to those who come from underprivileged or marginalized backgrounds. You have to do this because, you will learn, because Western culture has exploited every other culture, and your experiences are so shaped by Western culture that you cannot question those who criticize you. And thus you will become a good cultural leftist (which is the shape liberalism takes in the academy), or, if you are not convinced by these arguments, you will learn how to fake it for the sake of getting a good grade.

All of this is profoundly anti-Christian, which is why Christian students are typically the most radical questioners of higher education. Because Christians believe in a universal human nature, they also believe they can make universal truth claims about human nature. That does not mean that every statement about human nature is true. Of course not! A central part of education is learning how to argue by testing your own ideas about human nature against the ideas found in great books and the ideas espoused by your teachers and fellow students. Christians believe, for example, that because we are created in the image of God, every single person is of infinite worth, but Christians also believe that humans are fallen creatures, in need of grace and forgiveness. Christians are thus able to appreciate both the majesty and the misery of human actions. That is a powerful framework for questioning what you read and hear. What Christians do not believe is that every culture has its own truths and that the only way to learn about another culture is to refrain from seeking the universal truth.

18.  Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason shares that relativism is alive and well in the church.

19.  How not to be involved in your kids’ lives.  HT: Dennis Babish

20.  Here is not just a crummy, but downright heretical church sign.

HT: Suzannah Paul via Crummy Church Signs

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When I was a kid my family and I attended a small rural church several miles outside of the town I grew up in.  I remember going to VBS, Christmas programs and the fact the church didn’t have indoor plumbing.  I remember that the pastor was in the outhouse when a bull snake presented itself.  Let’s just say we were laughing about that for quite some time.

They were good people.  I had a good time.  I didn’t hear much about having a relationship with Jesus there.  Then when I was in junior high we quit going.  I’m not sure why, but there wasn’t an intersection with my life.  So I didn’t miss it.

From junior high until the summer before my senior year in high school I did not have one person tell me about Jesus.  My freshman year I met a guy after moving into Des Moines who invited me to church, but he quit spending time with me when I found excuses each time I was asked.  I didn’t encounter anyone who had a heart for somebody like me who was outside the faith.

That isn’t the heart of Jesus.

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest,” (Matthew 9:35-38, ESV).

He would look at those around him and have compassion on them.  He saw past people’s facade and saw their brokenness and pain.  He loved lost people.  He knew as well that the harvest of those outside the faith would be plentiful if we would pray to Him to provide workers.

We’ve been looking at the Church in Jerusalem and we have seen a continual devotion to growth and obedience to God’s word.  We saw that the enjoyed and were committed to the fellowship that they shared.  They were also enjoyed God,  worshipping him continually in small groups and large.

If we were to stop looking at this passage, we would have a very inward view of the Church.  On its own Acts 2:42 presents a very lopsided picture of the church’s life.  That wasn’t all that was going on though.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved, (Acts 2:42-47, ESV, emphasis mine).

It is important to realize, the Lord did it.  It was He who added to their number those who who were saved.  The Church was being the Church and He provided the fruit of their faithfulness.  This first church had a contagious community and that was attractive to those on the outside looking in.

They were also faithful in getting the good news of Jesus’ death & resurrection out.  They couldn’t contain themselves.

And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ, (Acts 5:42, ESV).

Praise and proclamation were both the natural overflow of hearts that are full of the Holy Spirit.  And as their witness was continuous, so continuously were people being saved.

The great 19th century American evangelist D.L. Moody was once approached by a woman who criticized him for his methods in attempting to win people to the Lord.

Moody replied, “I agree with you.  I don’t like the way I do it either.  Tell me, how do you do it?”

The woman replied, “I don’t do it.”

Moody retorted, “Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”

The key is faithfulness, not so much our methods.  We do need to be relevant.  We do need to be winsome.  But we also have to remember that the Holy Spirit is the Evangelist, not us.  Our goal is not to see people as targets, and move on to the next person if they are not responsive (much like I experienced my freshman year in high school).  Rather we need to faithfully share, with those whom we love and encounter, the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith,” (Romans 1:16-17, ESV)

The Gospel is powerful.  We shouldn’t be ashamed to share it.  It is good news, why would we not want to pass the word along? 

Do you intentionally look for ways to build bridges with those outside the faith that you know or encounter?  Do you have compassion for those without Christ, or are you like the woman who spoke to D.L. Moody?  Do you partner with others to share Christ with your friends, family and coworkers who don’t know Him?  Does your church have a heart for those who need Jesus?  Do you know how to share your faith effectively?

It is my prayer that you and your church will seek to be contagious for Jesus.

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One Sunday a visitor showed up in a more formal, liturgical church than he was used to attending. The church was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. That made it all the more obvious when this visitor got excited about something the minister said and he shouted out “Praise the Lord!”

What was second nature to this newcomer was behavior that shocked and even scared the faithful in this setting where they were not used to such exuberant expressions of worship. Nobody had ever done anything like that before.

One of the regular attenders leaned forward and tapped the man on the shoulder and whispered, “We don’t praise the Lord around here.”

Someone seated nearby heard this exchange and they said, “Yes we do. It’s on page 15 of the Lectionary.”

We have seen that the Church in Jerusalem was devoted to the ministry of the word, to discipleship.  We also saw that they were devoted to fellowship.  There is one more item that this church devoted itself to – worship.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved, (Acts 2:42-47, ESV, emphasis mine).

We see that this church was devoted (continuing steadfastly) to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  This phrase suggests a reference to communion (which was probably part of a larger meal) and times of prayer for those in their community and out.

It is important to note that worship follows Biblical instruction as we respond out of gratitude to what we learn about God’s character and attributes, to His goodness and grace in our lives, and we rejoice in what God has done for us through Jesus.  When we learn about who we are in Christ how could we not praise Him?

It is also worth mentioning that this worship is closely linked to fellowship.  Our fellowship with other followers of Christ is rooted in our fellowship with God through Christ.  It is a spiritual bond, and fellowship with God entails worship our response to Him.  In the Word He speaks to us.  Through worship we reply.  In fellowship we experience this together.

In contrast to the church experience mentioned above is in stark contrast to what worship is to be about.  It isn’t about style.  It isn’t about methods.  It isn’t even about location.  It most certainly isn’t to be about us.  It is about God.  He is to be the center of our worship.  When we worship, we are doing what we were created to do.  When we do this in accordance to our free will we bring Him glory.  The last statement of the Westminster Catechism illustrates this when it says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

We can see several aspects of the early church’s worship:

Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people, (Acts 2:46-47a, NASB).

The word “continuing” (“attending” in ESV, but the NASB is the better translation here) is the same Greek word used in verse 42 that is translated “devoted”.  They were literally continuing steadfastly to meet together.

They were also of “one mind”.  This speaks of a unity that was present among the believers, not just everyone being with one another physically, but a spiritual unity.  Their hearts were being knitted together by the Holy Spirit.  The Apostle Paul reminded the Church at Ephesus about their common life in Christ and how it should affect them as a whole.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all, (Ephesians 4:1-6, ESV).

We also see in Acts 2:46 that worship wasn’t limited to larger groups, but within small groups as well.  It wasn’t limited to a particular day, but day by day.

They also had glad and sincere hearts – they were joyful.  In Acts 2:43 we see that “awe came upon every soul” this community was drawn into the presence of God and it was amazing!  A.W. Tozer describes worship in a similar fashion.

Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery which philosophers call the first Cause, but which we call Our Father which art in Heaven.

Another thing to mention worship isn’t just music (music isn’t even mentioned in Acts 2:42, but some would say that Acts 2:47 – “praising God” could be referring to praise in song).  Again, worship isn’t about a particular style or method.  We are to worship God with our lives.  The Apostle Paul writes:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship, (Romans 12:1, ESV).

Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, CA likes to say that the problem with being a living sacrifice is that we have a tendency to want to pull ourselves off the altar.  Our lives should glorify God.  Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount eludes to this as well.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven, (Matthew 5:16, ESV).

The Apostle Paul echoes that as well.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him, (Colossians 3:17, ESV).

So with this we see that our worship is not contained to Sunday morning, but throughout the week.  It isn’t just corporately, but individual worship as well.  We worship when we respond to the Word in obedience.  So we worship when we do our very best on the job.  We worship when we don’t cut corners.  We worship when we parent.  We worship when we do our best in school.  We worship in our service.

We also worship when are together with other believers – whether that is in a small group or on Sunday morning remember that our fellowship is a spiritual one and that we need to encourage one another.  The apostle Paul encourages the Church at Ephesus to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ,” (Ephesians 5:19-21, ESV).

Worship is responding to God for who He is, what He has done for us, and who we are in Christ.  It is an act of love.  We have the privilege to bless Him, to glorify Him, and enter into His presence both individually and corporately.  Some want to look at worship as something they can do individually without being a part of spiritual fellowship.  That would be a mistake.  The writer of Hebrews exhorts us:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near, (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).

We need the body, but worship is also in how our life is lived so it does no good to attend Sunday worship and not live for Christ the rest of the week.  He doesn’t want us segmented.  He wants our entire life.  We are designed to glorify Him, and in doing so we can enjoy Him and be satisfied in Him.

So in this we see that a local church in order to be a contagious community is a community that as a group and also with its individual members seek to fulfill the first commandment of the Great Commandment to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

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Once when some people were riding in a four-engine propeller airplane over Kansas, three of the engines conked out. Immediately the cabin door opened, and the pilot appeared with a parachute on his back. “Keep calm, folks, and don’t panic!” He ordered. “I’m going for help!”

We live in a “me” first society that makes true fellowship a real challenge. True biblical fellowship as illustrated in the Jerusalem church is rarely seen in the United States.  Which is one reason why our churches lack vibrancy and are not contagious for the cause of Christ.

But right after their devotion to the apostles teaching which I looked at last week we see that they were devoted to fellowship, (Acts 2:42). 

The Greek word for “fellowship” is koinonia. It is derived from the root word – koinos which means common.  Koinonia bears witness to the common life of the church in two ways.

1.  It expresses what we share together. This is God Himself.

“Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ,” (1 John 1:3).  In 2 Corinthians 13:14 it says we have also the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”

It is the main thing that unites believers. Because of our common relationship with Christ, we are brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are all the Body of Christ.

The apostle Paul expresses this in Ephesians as well

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

2.  It also expresses what we share together, what we give, as well as what we receive.

In 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:13 – Koinonia is the word that Paul used for the collection he was organizing among the Greek churches, and koinonikos is the Greek word for generous.  So we are to have a generous spirit – a sacrificial spirit.

So true biblical fellowship isn’t satisfied by “fellowship time” after services with coffee and donuts.  It goes beyond church potlucks.  It is way more involved in that.

And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need, (Acts 2:44-45, ESV).

These verses can be disturbing. Does this passage mean that every believer and local congregation should follow their example literally?  A couple of things to note.

  • Voluntary giving – v. 46 – “breaking bread in their homes” – they still had homes to meet in.
  • “Selling” and “gave” in v. 45 are the imperfect tense in the Greek which indicates that the selling and giving were occasional in response to particular needs, not once and for all.”

This desire to provide for needs within their community had awesome results.

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need, (Acts 4:34-35, ESV).

This type of fellowship could not happen if there was not devotion to the apostles teaching and a desire to be a doer of the word.  The apostle John challenges us as well.

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17, ESV).

Our coming along side our brothers and sisters in Christ in their time of need.  Our love for one another, and desire to have fellowship with other Christ followers is evidence of our love for God.  We must not slide in this area because it affects our witness for Christ as well.

John Chrysostom, fourth century archbishop of Constantinople described fellowship in this way.

This was an angelic commonwealth, not to call anything of theirs their own. Forthwith the roots of evils were cast out. None reproached, none envied, none grudged, no pride, no contempt was there….The poor man knew no shame, the rich no haughtiness.

We must not avoid the challenge of this model. Fellowship is sharing of oneself and one’s resources sacrificially. It is spiritual fellowship because of our common faith. It is a preview of heaven.

There is much speculation concerning what heaven and hell will be like. One contrast of heaven and hell tells of a man who had a dream that he was allowed to see both places. He was first taken to hell. He was taken into a room in the middle of which there was a large pot of stew. The stew smelled delicious. But all around the pot there were people who were starving and in desperation. They all held spoons in their hands that had unusually long handles which reached all the way to the pot, but because the spoon handles were longer than their arms, they were unable to get the spoons filled with stew to their mouths. Their suffering was terrible and continuous.

The man was then taken to heaven. Heaven was identical to hell; the rooms were identical, the pot of stew in the middle of the room was the same, the spoons were the same. But the people in the room were well-fed and joyous. The man was perplexed when he first walked into the room. But as he watched the people in this room, he learned the difference. The people had spoons that would not allow them to feed themselves, so they fed each other.

Are you living a sacrificial giving life? Does this describe your church? Is your lifestyle preventing me from living like this?  If we practice true fellowship, it is contagious to those on the outside looking in.

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When I was a kid my parents called me a “walking encyclopedia of useless information.”  I loved to read, especially history.  I would read ahead of the class in the history text to absorb different historical facts (yes I was a nerd).  I would collect these facts and I would… destroy people in Trivial Pursuit, which seemed to be the only place I could apply what I learned.  It got to the point nobody wanted to play me anymore.

Consider for a moment the following facts.

  • An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.
  • A pregnant goldfish is called a twit.
  • In Great Britain the Speaker of House is not allowed to speak.
  • Mel Blanc, the original voice of Bugs Bunny, was allergic to carrots.
  • The average person falls asleep in seven minutes.
  • The longest recorded flight of a chicken is 13 seconds.
  • The only domestic animal not mentioned in the Bible is the cat.
  • More people are killed annually by donkeys than die in plane crashes.

Although these pieces of “useless” trivia are true (to the best of my knowledge), none of them require any action or response on our part.  And knowing them won’t improve the quality of your life, or anybody else’s for that matter.

In the last post on this subject I introduced the first church to you.  The Church in Jerusalem given birth on Pentecost.  We see some characteristics in this church that I think can be universally applied.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved, (Acts 2:42-47, ESV).

They were devoted to three different things, and this word “devoted” in the Greek literally means to “continue steadfastly.”  This gives us a picture of constant attention.  These three things were of vital importance for the life of the church.  I am going to focus on one in this post.

The first thing we see that they gave their attention to, that they devoted themselves to is the “apostles’ teaching” – the apostles taught what Christ had taught them.  They would also teach about His life, His death, and His resurrection (as see in Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost).  They would teach Old Testament scriptures as it relates to Christ – through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This was of vital importance because at Pentecost, shortly before this account, the Church grows from 120 persons to 3000.  What to do?  Jesus right before His ascension gave His disciples a commission (which is for them and us today).

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV, emphasis mine).

These new followers needed to be taught.  For the growth of the church it was vital that they listened and obeyed the apostles’ teaching.  The New Testament had not yet been written, so they depended upon the scripture they had, the Law and the Prophets, and then the apostles recount of what Jesus had taught and his life and ministry.  They were ordinary men and they had no formal education so we see in Acts 2:43 that like Jesus they performed miracles to demonstrate authority in their teaching.

I need to digress a little bit at this point.  It is necessary to point out that they also had some naturally accountability when sharing about the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is that almost everybody in that first church were eyewitnesses of Christ on earth.  They just couldn’t make up stuff and still have a following.  There were t0o many eyewitnesses to His life, but also of His resurrection.  Jesus appeared to…

  • to Mary Magdalene (John 20:10-18)
  • to the other women (Matthew 28:8-10)
  • to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32)
  • to eleven disciples and others (Luke 24:33-49)
  • to ten apostles and others, with Thomas absent (John 20:19-23)
  • to Thomas and the other apostles (John 20:26-30)
  • to seven apostles (John 21:1-14)
  • to the disciples (Matthew 28:16-20)
  • to His apostles at the Mount of Olives before His ascension (Luke 24:50-52; Acts 1:4-9).
  • to 500 at one time where the majority were still alive and it could be verified when the apostle Paul wrote it (1 Corinthians 15:6).

We also need to see that the apostles were not to just impart knowledge – they were to teach these new believers to observe, to obey all of the things that Jesus had commanded.  Things like…

  • “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful,” (Luke 6:36).
  • “Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes,” (John 12:35).
  • “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets,” (Matthew 22:37-40).
  • “You are the light of the world, A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven,” (Matthew 5:14-16).

And on and on… not meant to be an exhaustive list.  Thinking back to our list of useless trivia.  Those don’t require a response.  God’s word however does.  We have an advantage that the early church didn’t have – a completed Bible.

This Bible is not some list of worthless information –  it is truth that can set us free to be what God has created us to be.  The writer of Hebrews described God’s word as living and active and sharper than a double-edged sword, (Hebrews 4:12).  It has the power of transform us if we would let it.  God speaks to us and changes us by His word in the power of His Holy Spirit.

So His word should not just be read and listened to, but applied.  Jesus himself said those who hears His words (or in our case reads) and does not obey them is like a fool who built his house on sand, (Matthew 7:26).  We need a solid foundation for our life, a guide for life, a “how to” manual for the Christian life and the Bible provides that.

James also warns followers of Christ to apply the Word:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.   But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

John Maxwell points out that the North American Church has “been educated far beyond its level of obedience.”  I believe that is true.  I submit to you that when a church puts the Word into practice it is powerful.  A novel concept I know.  I don’t mean just that the word is taught from the pulpit on Sundays and studied in small groups throughout the week.  Churches need to apply the word in their ministry and response to needs around them.  Individual followers of Christ within the local church needs to put what they’ve learned in church and in their individual study to practice in their personal lives, families, workplaces, neighborhoods, communities and beyond.

When a local church and its members do that… they are on their way to becoming a contagious community.  It is powerful.

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I have heard numerous excuses for not attending church.  If I take those excuses and apply them to other things that we do (or don’t do), like eating, they might look something like this.

I don’t eat anymore because…

  • I was forced to eat as a child.
  • People who eat all of the time are hypocrites; they aren’t really hungry.
  • There are so many different kinds of food, I can’t decide what to eat.
  • I used to eat, but I got bored and stopped.
  • I only eat on special occassions, like Christmas and Easter.
  • None of my friends will eat with me.
  • I’ll start eating as I get older.
  • I don’t really have time to eat.
  • I don’t believe that eating does anybody any good.  It’s just a crutch.
  • Restaurants and grocery stores are only after your money.

We who are inside and outside a local church can come up with many excuses to keep us from the very thing that can bring nourishment.  When I find people who are not attracted to the Church (universal, not local), it is usually because they have not been exposed to an authentic Biblical community.  They simply have not seen the real thing.  What they have seen, however, is way too many believers and too many congregations play church.

Churches in the United States have a problem.  According to the Barna Research Group only 10-15% of Protestant churches are found to be effective.  George Barna defines the effective church in this way:

A ministry is effective when lives are transformed such that people are constantly enabled to become more Christ-like.  Effective ministries foster significant and continual changes in how people live.

In my years of involvement in youth ministry in both church and parachurch settings, I have found that youth (and people in general) are interested in Jesus, but it’s the local church that often is a stumbling block for them.

Each local body of believers should desire to be a contagious community that infects the world around them with the love of Jesus Christ.  People who are in the church should have the type of environment that fosters Christ-likeness, and people outside the church should see what is going on and desire to be a part of that.

In a short series of posts I am going to look at the Church in Jerusalem just as it is starting as a model of what a contagious community can look like.  We see a great snapshot right after Pentecost.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved, (Acts 2:42-47, ESV)

In this passage we see three aspects which helped make this community successful – contagious communities look up, contagious communities look in, and contagious communities also look out.  In my next post on this topic I’ll explore how the Jerusalem church looked up.

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I’m sorry that I’ve been doing so much political blogging lately (not really, but I’ve been pretty imbalanced – should slow down after Super Tuesday though).  Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason answers this question, watch the video and share your thoughts.

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