Grace Brings Unity

32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 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 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. [1]

As we look at this passage once again today, it becomes clear that the grace that was upon them all affected their unity.  In this case the unity displayed led them to care for other members of the church in such a way that nobody had a need.  It doesn’t say that they didn’t own anything anymore and thus it is not an encouragement for “forced distribution of wealth.”  It says they sold their possessions to turn them into cash, but this does not mean they never owned more land after that.

The overarching concept was their unity, their being “one in heart and mind,” their fellowship in the Spirit.  If you notice in churches today, you can usually connect the dots with a churches’ unity (or lack thereof) and their generosity or stinginess accordingly.  Mind you, it is not the only litmus test of true unity, but at least one test of it.  We discover that the church in the New Testament continued to be generous in their contributions for the other believers.  This happened when an offering we collected by the Apostle Paul for the believers in Jerusalem.

 

Even the detractors of the early church would say such things of the church’s generosity by such quotes as “behold, how they love one another.”  I believe this example of the generosity shown by the believers of everybody giving so that no one would have need is a general principle we should practice yet today.

 

However, one thing must remain clear; this generosity was preceded by prayer, signs and wonders and the preaching of the word.  I truly believe that if we get this priority right, the spontaneous generosity and care for one another will follow, not in a communal style of living but in a community that is alive with the Acts of the Holy Spirit in the marketplace and in the gathered assembly of worshipers.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ac 4:32–35). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Real Community

32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 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 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. [1]

Years ago in the early Seventies I was part of the phenomenon known as the “Jesus People.”  For four years, I was involved in a sub-culture group of the “Jesus People” who practiced community living.  Only unlike the story from our text today, it wasn’t voluntary to sell your possessions.  In order to join the group, it was mandatory.  The results were disastrous.  Because of the compulsory nature of our selling all that we had, there were many hard feelings of resentment of the people who had sold all they had and given it to the leaders of the group.  The leader ended up taking the money from the proceeds and either bought more equipment with it or used it for himself to eat sumptuously while the rest of the people in the group ate pumpkin for two weeks at a time or turnips as a steady diet for two or three days in a row.

Meanwhile, I noticed that most of the people in the group who would get packages from home with gifts and goodies were hiding those things and began to hoard these things so they could eat a snack in the night when nobody was looking.  Of course this wasn’t too surprising, since our diet was shall we say lacking in substance?

The point is this:  This is what happens when a spontaneous idea, born out of a genuine heart for other people in the community becomes compulsory and mandated by the leaders in a group.  As we shall see in looking more deeply at our text, this was not a great hippie experiment in socialism that the early church was involved in.  It was something they did at the beginning of the churches’ existence out of the great grace that was bestowed upon them to do so for a higher purpose.

According to J.B. Polhill, “The voluntary and temporary nature of the Christian practice is evidenced by the consistent use of the iterative imperfect tense throughout vv. 34b–35. This is how they “used to” do it. They “would sell” their property and bring it to the apostles as needs arose.”[2]  We also, never see this practice mentioned again either in Acts or the rest of the New Testament.

What we can learn from this stellar example of Christian love is that as the church is filled with compassion and sees many people added to the church daily, in the excitement of what God through his Holy Spirit is doing can cause us to give generously from the heart, so that the body of Christ is strengthened and no one is left lacking.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ac 4:32–35). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] Polhill, J. B. (1995). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 153). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Let us Pray

23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

       “ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage,

and the peoples plot in vain?

26    The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers were gathered together,

against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.  (Acts 4:23=31)

All this week, we have been looking at the purpose of signs and wonders.  We have discovered that God has always used bold servants who will live and act in his name to show those who do not believe his mighty power.  Today in our text, we see Peter and John, after performing a miracle on a lame man and having been questioned and released, going back to the church.  The church, instead of hiding and crying out “persecution” gathered together to pray.  By the way, prayer was what started all of this in the upper room.  Without hesitation, they glorified God together and realized this was part and parcel with being a Christian.  The believers knew from scripture that this was all part of what was to be expected as a believer.  So they prayed that the signs and wonders would continue and for boldness to continue.  God answered their prayer.

God will always answer the prayer request for boldness to speak the word of God with boldness.  It’s amazing we don’t pray more for boldness.  Why not try it today?  If you find yourself being threatened for being a witness, (provided you aren’t doing crazy things like talking when you should be working), ask the Lord to stretch out his hand to heal and to do signs and wonders and to give you the boldness to continue to speak His word with boldness.

In closing, I can’t help but notice that these days, the Atheists seem to be bolder than Christians. From talk show hosts mocking the authenticity of the Bible to the internet chat rooms, they are banding together to get the message out that it is stupid and foolish to believe in God and Scripture.  We have the power of the one who created everything there is in the universe.  Let’s avail ourselves of that power.  Let’s be bold for God.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Turn our Hearts Toward You!

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” 32 and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. 33 And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” 34 And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. 35 And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.

36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” [1]

As we get to the really “fun” part of this story, we should keep in mind the purpose of this extraordinary show of God’s strength. The contest was for the benefit of the people to learn who truly ruled Israel—the Baals of Ahab and Jezebel or the Lord God of their fathers.  In this text we found out.

This was like a Houdini moment for the crowd gathered to see whose God was the God of Israel only it wasn’t magic.  It was the power of the Lord God.  Elijah was so confident in his God that he wasn’t concerned about buckets of water on the sacrifice.  Also, notice the difference between the prayer of Elijah and the prayers of the Baalites.  The Baalites franticly screaming Oh Baal, Oh Baal, repeating their montra all the day long.  And Elijah, simply and humbly asks with a pastor’s heart that God would answer him so that the peoples’ hearts would be turned back to the true God.

Of course God did consume the sacrifice in a mighty way, so much that the water in the trench was licked up as well.  So what can we conclude from this story?  Many things of course, but one of the most looming lessons it seems is that God desires to have people turn back toward him and does signs and wonders in order to do that.  This has been true in the book of Acts we have been studying and it is true all throughout scripture.

In our world today, there are multitudes who have turned to other gods to find significance and to fill the void in their lives that material things and in fact religion cannot fill.  I believe it’s time for Christians to step out with boldness in the true God like Elijah did.  I believe we will be amazed at the response of the multitudes when we do.  Maybe it’s that friend or that relative or that boss at your job that is looking for love in all the wrong places.  Please know today that God really does want to show himself strong and turn their hearts toward him.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Ki 18:30–39). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sincerity is not Enough

And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.[1]

If you recall from yesterday, the prophet Elijah had challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest to determine whose God was the real deal. Turns out this was not so easy for the prophets of Baal. Baal’s prophets attempt to rouse him from the dead. They shout, but no one responds. Next, they “dance” or “limp” (pāsaḥ) around the altar, again trying to get the god’s attention. This ritual dance also gets no response. At noon Elijah begins to taunt them, suggesting Baal is preoccupied in some manner. G. E. Saint-Laurent demonstrates that ancient Baal worshipers indeed did imply in their writings that not only could Baal die, but he also could go on a journey, fall asleep, or even resort to bloody self-mutilation.

Desperate now, their authority at stake, the Baalists cut themselves and practice frenzied prophesying, not unlike self-hypnosis. Though they try for hours, the text says as explicitly as it can that their god is unable to answer because he is not real.

Tomorrow, we will cover “the rest of the story.”  However, for today suffice it to say that there are still millions of people who are calling upon “gods” who are not real.  There are many who say that it really doesn’t matter what you believe or to what deity you pray to, as long as you are sincere.  Unfortunately, there are way too many sincere people who have sincerely believed and been wrong.  Even today, “drinking the kool-aid” carries with it the connotation from the terrible massacre from cult leader Jim Jones who ordered all of his followers to drink kool-aid laced with cyanide.

Someone once said, it’s not the sincerity or the amount of your belief or faith that counts, but rather, it’s the object of your belief and faith that makes the difference.  Down through the ages, millions have found the Bible, when read in context to be an object of their faith that they can trust in.  I put my faith in the truth of scripture over 41 years ago this month.  I have discovered that I don’t need to shout to him or wake him up or do something crazy to get his attention.  He is the God who is there.  He has revealed himself in scripture.  If you have never taken a serious look at the Bible, why not do so today?

 

 


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Ki 18:24–29). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Boldness, Old Testament Style

20 So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23 Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” (I Kings 18: 20-24)

Presently, we are engaged in a study of “Missio Dei” or The Mission of God.  This is about how he still sends, still acts, still shows himself to be God, especially when people say he doesn’t exist.  Our text for this morning comes from the Old Testament in the book of I Kings.

In this famous text we will be examining the rest of this week, we find one of God’s Prophets acting in a similar fashion to Peter and John, representing God among the unbelievers and religious people. Both Elijah and his counterparts believe their god to be the solution to Israel’s problems. Elijah is supremely confident that there is no god but Yahweh. His experiences in Phoenicia have confirmed to him this truth. Elijah wants to eliminate Baal from consideration whenever Israel decides theological matters.

To achieve this goal Elijah suggests a contest. He says that a sacrifice should be offered and that the real God must come take it by fire. The people like this contest, and the text does not indicate the Baalists object at all. Again, at least the prophets of Baal do not lack conviction. As storm god Baal was thought to be responsible for lightning as well as rain, so this should be an easy contest, right? We will look further at this story tomorrow and see how it progresses but for today, we can see that God has always had people who will make a stand for him in the most difficult of situations.

I just read a post from a face book friend who takes great delight in mocking his idea of what a Christian is, by mentioning all the “idiot” republican political leaders who believe the earth to be only 10,000 years old.  Of course he wouldn’t dare entertain the idea that there are a lot of Christians who have no trouble with the earth being a lot older than that, because then he may have to actually engage the issues of Christianity rather than just blow smoke with faux arguments to dismiss the idea of God’s existence altogether.

I believe it’s a good time to discover the boldness God wants us to have to engage the unbelieving world by seeing what God will do as we do so.  Believe me, God is up to the challenge, because he loves everybody and wants to show himself to his most antagonistic opponent.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Give us Boldness!

29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. [1]

Observe the church’s prayer: “Now, Lord, consider their threats.” Whose threats? The Sanhedrin’s, of course. Just like the threats, plots, and rages against Jesus, the church viewed itself in much the situation he had experienced. The authorities had raged against him, and God made him to triumph in the power of his resurrection. So now the same temporal powers had raged and plotted against the apostles. Like Christ, God had delivered them. The Christians realized that the opposition was not over. The Sanhedrin continued to threaten them. One would expect them to ask God for further deliverance. They did not. Instead, they asked for more of the same, requesting of him boldness in witness and further miraculous signs. The request for miracle was not a request for power over their enemies. It was closely related to the request for boldness in witness.

I don’t know about you, but usually when I find myself in a tough spot, I tend to pray for deliverance.  In the modern church, if our “rights” are infringed upon, many times our first response is to say, “Lord protect us, or Lord, deliver us.”

In the United States, we have the luxury of democracy which is a wonderful thing.  However, often our democratic way of thinking gets in the way of kingdom thinking.  We expect the world and the government to be friendly and accepting toward us.  The early church was under no such delusion.  Granted, these were religious people threatening them, but they were religious people working for the government of the time.  The Sadducees worked in close cahoots with the government and thus the connection here.

The point is this; the church hadn’t suddenly turned to prayer as a last resort.  They had been in prayer since the church was born.  They knew that the signs and wonders wouldn’t be something that would bring them fame and notoriety as the “fastest growing church.”  So instead of deliverance they asked for God to continue His program and that God would give them boldness.  Luke records that the place shook and they continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

In the days we are living in, we don’t know how much longer we as the church will be able to operate with the freedom we now enjoy.  Perhaps it would be a good idea to make the prayer meeting the greatest attended meeting in the church instead of the most sparsely attended one.  Who knows what kind of signs and wonders, preaching and yes boldness may result.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ac 4:29–31). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment