Archive for July, 2010

As the new converts were believing and belonging they were becoming the presence of Christ. They were marked by three qualities. The first quality was internal joy. “…and shared their meals with great joy and generosity” (Acts 2:46b, NLT). They were characterized by a sense of true joy that was deeper and more profound that the fleeting qualities of happiness. Without a doubt, joy filled their hearts.

The joy that filled their hearts spilled out in their speech. “All the while (they were) praising God…” (Acts 2:47a, NLT). These Christ followers were also characterized by praise. Whatever fills your heart will be betrayed by your mouth. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). When joy fills your heart, praise will pour out of your lips. If you want a quick take on what’s in your heart, listen to yourself speak.

The joy in their hearts and the mouths filled with praise made them into people of influence. They had favor among those in the community. The chapter concludes with this pronouncement: “And enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47, NLT). This influence led to more and more people being added to their body each day. Evangelism is something that we do, but it only has an impact when it is rooted in who we are.

I think that for too long we have told ourselves that if we’ll mimic the pattern of Acts 2 we’ll get the results that we read about in Acts 2. Following these practices certainly won’t hurt your spiritual formation or your church, for that matter. But how many have undertaken a purpose driven model only to feel that they have either somehow failed to get it right or that God in his sovereign will has passed them over? When will we learn that external practices are only valid when they transform the heart? Believe, Belong and Become. Those things can only be produced when the heart of a human being or the heart of a church is being radically transformed. To reduce it all to external behavior makes us nothing more than 21st century Pharisees.

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The second stage of the process in Acts 2:41-47 is belonging. The passage continues, “Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. And every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the Temple complex, and broke bread from house to house” (Acts 2:44-46, HCSB).

Look at this passage and observe the references to unity. As they grew in faith, they grew in their sense of belonging. They belonged to one another in community, and placed the needs of others above their own. A lot of ink has been spilled over the nature of their sharing. Some have gone as far as to call it socialism or communism. But those kinds of theological gymnastics are of little help. I think at the baseline of the matter is that these early believers valued one another more than their own stuff. There was a oneness in this new society that was larger than material possessions. When one member had a need, someone stepped up to meet it. I think that our sense of belonging and community here in 21st century America is colored by the lenses of capitalism and the American dream. While Americans tend to be generous, it is my observation that our giving is often measured. Maybe our strange attachment to stuff and our obsession to create our own financial security is one of the reasons that the greatest Kingdom work in the world today is happening in impoverished countries instead of modernized ones. Just a thought.

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My hunch is that no passage in Acts has been taught or discussed more than the summary that concludes chapter 2. Rick Warren has made a mint from this paragraph in his Purpose Drive Church and Purpose Driven Life, creating a philosophy of ministry and an approach to life through worship, evangelism, discipleship, ministry and fellowship.

In looking at this passage in worship last weekend, I tried to step over the commonly argued themes and point to the process that was at work. While those primary believers were engaged in those purposes, it’s the process that is often overlooked.

The first stage of the process is found in Acts 2:41-42, which reads, “So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers” (HCSB).

Through the Scriptures, fellowship (literally, “partnership”), the Lord’s Supper (memory), and prayer, the new community were behaving in ways that cultivated faith and belief. Unfortunately, many people quit believing at the point of original faith that leads to salvation. These 3,000 new converts to the gospel expressed faith upon hearing Peter’s message at Pentecost. But they didn’t stop believing. They steadily worked on developing their faith, making God bigger and bigger.

As a result of their steadily increasing faith, “Fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles” (Acts 2:43, HCSB).

Because of their belief, they witnessed the miraculous work of God. Here’s the point. Miracles in the face of unbelief will harden the heart. You would think the opposite to be true, but it’s not. Think about Pharaoh from the book of Exodus. When Moses presented himself to Pharaoh and requested in the name of God that the children of Israel be released from bondage, Pharaoh replied that he did not know God and that he would not let the people go. After that initial meeting, God sent 10 plagues to the land of Egypt—each one a miracle. With each plague, Pharaoh’s heart was increasingly hardened. Miracles in the face of unbelief will harden the heart, not soften it. And miracles happen in the rich soil of faith, not the rocky soil of unbelief.

What are you doing to cultivate belief in your life? Worship and discipleship are wonderful ways to cultivate belief. Just make sure you remember the end game.

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Jul
22

What is Gospel Preaching? (part 4)

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One person (Jesus) made provision for our salvation through two events, the crucificion and resurrection. Through those two events God makes two promises to people.

In Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he elaborated by saying, “Repent…and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the gift is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39, HCSB).

The first promise God makes is that we can be forgiven of our sin. The word for forgiveness is a financial term that speaks of the elimination of a debt. Have you ever had a debt forgiven? When my wife and I were first married, our first major purchase was a new car. We bought a 1985 Mercury Lynx (the Mercury version of the Ford Escort). We financed it for 60 months and kept the car until it was paid off. I still remember the amount of the payments: $159.23. We wrote sixty checks for that amount until finally we were able to tear the final coupon out of the payment book and mailed it in. We were so happy to truly own the car, even with the door dings, soda stained upholstery, and 100,000+ miles on the odometer.

The problem with sin is that there is no end to the amortization schedule. We can’t pay it off by our own efforts through good deeds. The reason being that good deeds may help us feel better as we contemplate the fruit of sin (the bad things we do), but it doesn’t deal with the root of our sin. The Bible teaches that we are born with a tendency or a bent toward sin and self. Have you ever noticed that you don’t have to teach a child to lie, hit, or grab? No, you have to teach a child to tell the truth, restrain their anger, and to share. We are born from birth with a bent to sin and self. Its in our DNA, and there’s not enough good deeds to overcome that. Yet Jesus offers forgiveness–elimination of the debt–of sin. That’s good news.

But wait, there’s more!

Not only does God promise that he will provide forgiveness. He promises the Holy Spirit. So what’s that all about? According to Ephesians 1, the Holy Spirit is God’s pledge of promise on our eternal life. Again we see another financial term. If you’ve ever purchased a home, you know that in order to complete the contract offer you have to write a check to accompany your offer. That check is called earnest money. It’s a good faith promise that you intend to fulfill your contractual obligation in accordance with the terms of the sale offer. Or to put it simply, its a deposit.

When a person responds to the gospel God fulfills two promises. Not only does he forgive our sin, he also gives the gift of the Holy Spirit who serves as God’s pledge of promise that the faith we exhibit will indeed result in eternal life right now and a home in heaven when we die.

Gospel preaching calls out the good news that one person through two events offers two promises. It’s that simple. And it’s something everyone of us is called to do.

Categories : Acts, Gospel, Jesus, Preaching
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Jul
21

What is Gospel Preaching? (part 3)

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The gospel is about a person, Jesus Christ. In Peter’s gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost, he went on to describe how this person made provision for our salvation through two events: the crucifixion and the resurrection. Peter elaborates in Acts 2:23-24, “But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him it its grip” (NLT).

Jesus is known for many things. He was a masterful teacher, using everyday illustrations and metaphors to bring weighty matters of faith into his audience’s comprehension. He was compassionate, as evidenced by his willingness to restore sight to blind eyes, cleansing of lepers, healing those infirmed with sickness and disease, not to mention restoring life to three dead people. He was merciful, and exhibited his great mercy by extending God’s forgiveness to those who had been written off by religion and its leadership. He held dominion over nature, and demonstrated his might by calming winds and walking on angry waves. If we were to consider this resume of accomplishments, we would find Jesus to be quite worthy of admiration. But those deeds weren’t the end game. He came to this earth, identifying with his own creation by becoming robed in flesh, and experienced death on the cross in our place and on our behalf.

Die on the cross he did. But he didn’t stay dead. He displayed his power and victory over sin, death, and the grave through his resurrection. In our church’s tradition, I spend one day of Vacation Bible School roaming from class to class sharing the good news of Jesus with the children who attend. After sharing God’s love with our second graders, one little girl raised her hand and asked a profound question. She asked, “What if Jesus stayed dead?” Great question! At that point I referenced Paul’s words in his first letter to the Corinthian church and quoted, “And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of all of your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17, NLT).

Gospel preaching is preaching about a person who made provision for our salvation through two events: the crucifixion and the resurrection. They always go hand in hand. Through that provision God extends two promises to us. More about that tomorrow.

Categories : Acts, Gospel, Jesus, Preaching
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Jul
20

What is Gospel Preaching? (part 2)

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What are the significant elements of the gospel? Looking at Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, the first element of the gospel we see is Jesus. Acts 2:22 reads, “People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know” (NLT).

The gospel is about a person and his name is Jesus.

Sometimes we tend to overlook the fact that Jesus is perhaps the most misunderstood person in religion. American culture has reduced “God” to a mere common reference to any deity that the mind can conceive. One cannot speak of God without making a clarification and providing a definition. Jesus is still revered in America, chiefly because of his words of justice and compassion and his deeds to reach out to the oppressed. While this is not insignificant, Peter’s concern is to present Jesus as more than a peasant teacher who wandered Palestinian soil for three years. His concern is to present Jesus as God.

Through his miracles, signs, and wonders, God publicly pointed out Jesus to the crowds as the chosen one for who they have waited. The New Testament at large presents Jesus as the divine Son of God, born of a virgin, who took on flesh to identify with his own creation. During his time here Jesus lived a sinless and perfect life. The accusations against him were categorically false. He taught with brilliance and recklessly loved cared for those who were battered and broken by life and its structures and systems. But to present Jesus as a revolutionary who called for social reform falls short of who He was and is today. He is God. And that’s where the gospel must always begin.

Categories : Acts, Gospel, Jesus, Preaching
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Jul
19

What is Gospel Preaching?

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When I served in south St. Louis, our church was located at the beautiful intersection of Tower Grove and Magnolia Avenue. For nine years I would arrive at church prior to the 8:15 a.m. service, driving past two Sunday morning fixtures. The first was a man I affectionately called “pretzel man.” Pretzel man had a small, portable cart which served as his base of operations for selling pretzels. He would have about six of those soft pretzels in a bag that he would sell for a couple of bucks. The other fixture was a boy, probably a middle schooler, who sold the Sunday morning St. Louis Post-Dispatch. They would call out to those stopped at the intersection and sell their Sunday morning wares to those who were venturing out for the first time that day.

Those images of people calling out to those passing by remind me of the most commonly used word for preaching in the New Testament. To preach is to “herald,” to call out or speak out news. As Christians we are all called to “herald” or “call out” the gospel. Whereas we typically think of news predominately bad news, the gospel is good news. Hence, gospel preaching is calling out or heralding the good news of salvation.

The book of Acts contains some 30 sermons. Some of them are heralded to crowds while others are shared with individuals. Make no mistake, though, gospel preaching is one of the primary themes of Acts, and God invites each of us to be gospel preachers.

What is the content of the gospel? If we’re going to be gospel preachers, I think it’s important that we’re clear on the content of the message. Especially in a world that is becoming more and more pluralistic in its worldview. This week’s series of posts is designed to look at the content of the gospel based on the first gospel sermon in Acts delivered by the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost.

Categories : Acts, Gospel, Preaching
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Jul
17

Summer of Love Video

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Click on the video to get the full screen version. Great work!

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Jul
13

Stewardship Thought for the Week

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“Then someone called from the crowd, ‘Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.’ Jesus replied, ‘Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?’ Then he said, ‘Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.’ Then he told them a story: ‘A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops. Then he said, I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry! But God said to him, You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you have worked for?’ Yes a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 12:13-21, NLT)

How can a person become rich toward God? First, it is important that we learn to evaluate everything as a gift from God (cf. James 1:17). This reminds us that we are not self made or even “lucky.” We are blessed with blessings that come from the hand of God. Next, seek God’s direction before settling on a decision. This reminds us that we are not our own and that Jesus is Lord and master of all things. Finally, care more about giving than you do about getting. This reminds us that life is not about us. God has placed us here to be part of a bigger picture. We are blessed to be a blessing to others, not because we’re deserving.

Categories : Stewardship
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Jul
11

Crow Creek

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This weekend several from our church made a quick run to Crow Creek Reservation in Ft. Thompson, South Dakota, to recognize Jason Yates and Dustin Miller for their two years of service with the Harvest Initiative (HarvestInitiative.org). Dustin wasn’t able to be there, but we were able to celebrate with Jason and his wife Betsy. While we were there, Scott Oswald, who made his 21st trip to Crow Creek, was also presented a Star Quilt. A Star Quilt is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a person. Congratulations Jason and Betsy Yates, Dustin and Sarah Miller, and Scott Oswald!