Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I do not believe that God intended for us to use Acts 2:42-47 as a guide for our churches. In fact, it would be all but impossible for us to try to copy what those Christians did. Our cultures are dramatically different and our lives simply would not allow us to live like they did. However, there are some important things for us to notice before we go farther into the passage. None of these Christian people had grown up in the church. None of them could say, “We never did it this way before.” None of them had any preference for any particular style of worship. None of them had any denominational attachments or prejudices. There were no denominational leaders to tell people what they were supposed to be doing. These people seem to have been led by the direction of the Holy Spirit. They seem to have done the things that their hearts told them to do. They seem to have been very responsive to the direction of the Holy Spirit in their individual lives and in their corporate life as a church. These people were thrust together on the day of Pentecost. They came from many different countries, spoke many different languages, had many different cultures, and lived very different lifestyles. Suddenly they were brought together by one common thing; they had all just come to faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit brought them all together and they were launching out on a new life, a life of faith in Jesus.

It was only natural that these people would decide to stay together. Their lives had been fundamentally changed and they had all gone through an experience of new birth that would tie them together throughout eternity. So they committed to be together. That is what verse 44 means when it says, “All the believers were together.” They made a conscious decision to be together on purpose.

What did this church look like? There were over three thousand of them! There was no place where they could all gather together at one time and have a big worship service. Luke tells us they met every day in the temple courts. It does not say every one of them met every day at the temple. These people had responsibilities. They had families and jobs just like we do. What Luke is saying is that the believers made a commitment to meet together every day at the temple. The apostles would meet with those who had come and would teach them. Some of the believers would come in the morning and maybe Peter would teach them. Others would come in the afternoon and James would teach them. Still others would come after the work day ended and maybe John would teach. This is what the church looked like!

Another thing catches our attention; Luke says “they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…” For these people church was not just going to the temple to hear teaching. The church met in homes in the evenings. Of course these groups would have to be much smaller and they would have to meet in many different homes, but it looks like they were all doing pretty much the same thing in all the home groups. They “were together” and were committed to meeting together and living out their lives together. Their activities demonstrated their commitment to life together.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Some people get really upset about the commercialization of holidays. I try not to let it bother me too much. I can celebrate the holidays any way I want to and their personal preferences don’t get to me…much.

It really doesn’t bother me that the schools have almost all gone to “Holiday Concerts” and the music that is played and sung has nothing whatsoever to do with the birth of Jesus. Looking at Christmas decorations in early November doesn’t annoy me. I love Christmas and it just can’t last too long for me. I’m thrilled when two of our local radio stations go to all Christmas music all the time the week before Thanksgiving. The Easter Bunny doesn’t hinder my celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. And I’m not an enemy of Halloween when children dress up and get free candy.

I guess I’m either incredibly lax in my convictions or just really laid back. I don’t know.

But I got rather peeved the other day. I’m tired of hearing people on television wish me a happy Turkey Day. Turkey Day? When did it become Turkey Day? This is just over the top for me. No, I don’t feel like the Pilgrims are getting cheated. Our Thanksgiving celebrations don’t really go back to the Pilgrims. Thanksgiving goes back to President Lincoln who declared the day to be a national day of prayer and thanksgiving to God for bringing us most of the way through the bloodiest conflict our nation has ever known. The very name of the holiday begs the question. Thanksgiving! If we are going to celebrate Thanksgiving then there has to be Someone to whom we are giving thanks and to call it Turkey Day really bugs me.

I think I’m somewhat inconsistent here. I admit it. I should probably be more offended about Christmas and Resurrection Day too. Go ahead and point out my logical fallacies. For some reason, this really touched a sore spot for me.

We celebrated our first Thanksgiving in our new home today. Aaron wasn’t able to join us because he lives too far away. Caleb came down from university for the weekend. Today is also John’s 20th birthday. This may be our last Thanksgiving with these six kids around the table. John leaves for the Air Force in twelve days. Who knows how many years it will be until he can rejoin us for Thanksgiving? I’m grateful for my family, both here and in California. I’m thankful for God’s gracious provision, both spiritually and materially. I’m thankful to God. It’s not just Turkey Day here!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


The church grows as people come to faith in Jesus Christ. How do people come to faith in Christ? They hear the good news of redemption and reconciliation with God and they believe it. They put their faith in the work Jesus did on the cross and they are born again. How do they hear the good news? Somebody has to tell them. There are many ways this can happen but most often people hear the message from a friend.

How did Jesus expect that the church would grow? How did Jesus expect that people would hear his message? Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus expected his followers to bear witness to what he did. As the church scattered around the world people gave witness to what they knew and the church grew.

So Jesus expects us to be witnesses. What does it mean to be a witness? What does
it mean to bear witness? It simply means to tell what you know to be true. This is what the disciples did. In his sermon on Pentecost, Peter said, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:32) A little later, when Peter was preaching at Solomon’s Colonnade, he said, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” (Acts 3:15) Later, at the house of Cornelius, Peter said, “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.” (Acts 10:39) This is what it means to be a witness. It simply means to tell what you know.

There are many witnessing “tools” and witnessing “programs” and “strategies.” Most of these are designed to use the Bible to convince people to become Christians. I’m certainly not against using the Bible to try to persuade people to believe in Christ! But these are tools of evangelizing and they tend to frighten many Christian people away. Many people don’t think they can use these tools so they decide that telling people about Christ must be done by others. Being a witness is much simpler! It just means telling people what you know about God and about Jesus and about what God has done in your life! This is what we are all called to do!


Are churches supposed to grow? Should it be the goal of a church to grow numerically? There are countless books that have been published about church growth. They have all kinds of plans, ideas, and strategies for “getting your church to grow.” But no one seems to ask the basic question about whether or not a church should try to grow. Does God want churches to grow? I think the answer has to be yes, without a doubt! But are God’s reasons for wanting a church to grow the same as a church’s reasons?

Why do many churches want to grow? Is it just so there will be more people in their chairs on Sunday morning? Is it so there will be more money coming in to pay for all the programs and buildings? Is the pride of the pastor or the leadership the driving force behind wanting to see growth? Do people believe the success of a ministry is measured by numbers? None of these is a good reason for trying to grow a church

I believe God wants churches to grow and I think he has given us a clear direction and strategy for growing our church. First, the motive: We want to grow our church for the glory of God! How is God glorified through the growth of a church? He is glorified because more and more people are coming into relationship with him through faith in Jesus Christ. Second, the means: Churches grow when they are faithfully bearing witness to the work of Jesus and when they are seeking to continue his work as the body of Christ. Do you want to see your church grow? Then we need to focus our attention on being good witnesses and being the body of Christ.


We are going to fail. There can be no doubt about it. We don’t expect perfection from ourselves and we should not expect perfection from our brothers and sisters in the church. God doesn’t expect perfection. We already touched on this when we addressed the subject of forgiving one another. We must expect situations to arise when we need to forgive. People can be difficult and Christians are not exempt from that! That’s why Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2) The only reason Paul would say such a thing is that he knows patience will be necessary. He knows we will need to put up with each others’ failures with kindness. We can’t give up on each other! Think of the patience God has with us! Our brothers and sisters should receive that kind of patience from us!

When people fail there is often conflict. People get hurt. People get angry. Expectations go unmet. Conflict results. People think about leaving the church. We can’t allow conflict to cause us to give up on each other. 1 Thessalonians 5:13 says, “Live in peace with each other.” Paul doesn’t say, “Live in peace unless you’ve been wronged,” or, “Live in peace as long as it is easy.” He means that we are to work hard at resolving any conflicts. We are supposed to go out of our way to make sure they are not just ignored. We have to be peacemakers! When we are not living in peace with each other the body of Christ will not function the way God designed it to function. When that happens, the work of the kingdom of Christ will go undone! It is important that we learn to serve and minister to each other by putting every effort into keeping the peace because it is an evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in our church. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

Thursday, November 02, 2006


We are discussing the fact that the church ministers. We who are the church serve. It is impossible to serve one another in the church as long as we think we are the ones who deserve to be served. Paul says a great deal about the importance of willingly and intentionally taking a position of humility in the church. For example, in Galatians 5:13 he says, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another in love.” There are some people who are gifted by God to serve in the church. You know who they are. They are always willing to lend a hand, give of their time, and do the work other people don’t really want to do. They are a great blessing to the church! But their presence does not excuse the rest of us from taking the position of servants! Serving does not come naturally to most of us. We prefer to be served! We prefer to do the things that will make us happy and satisfy us. But Paul is saying in effect, “Because you love one another you should not think about just doing what you feel like doing; you should take the part of a servant and minister to others!” This is almost the opposite of what so many churches advertise. Instead of teaching Christians to serve, they propose to cater to the desires of the people! This is what contributes to the attitude people have that the church exists “to meet my needs; the church exists to serve me!” We need to decide to serve one another. We need to humble ourselves and put the interests of others before our own.

Here’s another example: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21) Do you think serving is difficult? Try submitting! This one really runs against our grain! Especially for those of us who are leaders in the church! The word literally means, “put oneself beneath.” Paul is saying that we need to humble ourselves by putting ourselves beneath others. Again, this is easier for some than it is for others. The best example of this has to be Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. He was their Lord and Master yet he chose to put himself beneath them. He intentionally took on the position of the lowest of household servants and washed the feet of the disciples. Then he said, “Now that I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14) That is why Paul tells us to put ourselves in a lower position “out of reverence for Christ!”

Not only are we called to serve one another by humbling ourselves to a lower position but we are to grant higher status to others. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10) Paul urges us to humble ourselves by giving a higher value to others than we do to ourselves. We are to have the same attitude Jesus had. Jesus did not seek honor so if we desire honor for ourselves then we are not being conformed to the likeness of Christ! If we desire honor for ourselves then we are not thinking of the welfare of the body of Christ. Think of it this way: If Jesus was physically present among us, how would we honor him? If we are to be like Jesus then we need to learn to honor the body of Christ as we would honor Jesus himself!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14) Clearly, the key piece that puts all these virtues together into a well-fitting puzzle is love. Without love it would be impossible to show all these characteristics to one another. It is like the shrink wrap that holds all the pieces together when you buy something that needs assembly! Where does this kind of love come from? It comes from God. Remember, God is love. He gave us his Holy Spirit to live inside us and it is the Holy Spirit who creates this God-love in us. The Holy Spirit is working to make us more and more like Jesus and love is the most important characteristic we have to develop!

Paul gives us several illustrations of how we can show love to one another. In Ephesians 4:32 he says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” The main point here is forgiveness. There is a need for forgiveness in the body of Christ. It is obvious that Paul knows we are not perfect. We will sin against each other and hurt each other. What do we do in situations like this? Paul says we are to show kindness and compassion and forgive. The word “kind” means “good and gracious.” Like God, we are to be concerned for the good of others. Like God, we are to extend grace to other people. In other words, just as God loved us when we were completely undeserving, we are to love others when they are mean or thoughtless or rude or selfish. We are to respond to behavior like this with kindness. Then Paul says we are to show compassion. That word means “tenderhearted.” It is difficult for us to accept but the fact is we are not responsible for pursuing justice when we have been wronged! That is God’s field. He is the one who sees to justice and we don’t have to worry about getting even or being shown to be right. Rather, we are to respond with compassion and tender hearts. God looked down on lost sinners with a tender heart. His heart was touched by our suffering and sin. So we are to act toward the people in our lives. We extend grace to them. We feel for them. There is no place in the church for an attitude that says, “Well, he made his bed, now he’ll just have to lie in it!” Instead, we are to forgive others just as God forgave us. We often pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Do we mean it? Are we more concerned with being hurt or wronged than we are with forgiving? Again, the church is designed to reflect the character of God and that includes showing love by forgiving one another as we would like to be forgiven and as God has already forgiven us!

Galatians 6:1, 2 shows us another way to demonstrate love to one another. “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” When someone is struggling in sin it is not loving simply to separate yourself from him and leave him in the quicksand. Neither is it loving to stand back and point a finger of accusation at him. Nor should we turn a blind eye, pretending not to see, and let him try to figure a way out of his trouble. Rather, we are called to help the brother up and aid him along the way, carrying his burden for him as he goes! Paul says this is the way to fulfill the law of Christ. What is the law of Christ? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving our neighbor means carrying his burden when he is slogging through the quagmire. It means trying to find ways to help lighten the load. It means supporting our neighbor when it seems he cannot walk by himself. This is what we would want our brothers and sisters to do for us so it is what we should do for them!