Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at prescriptive ingredients of real Biblical community. It’s centered on learning the Word, loving each other well, and now the third prescriptive statement; real Biblical community is centered on lasting worship.
As I read Acts 2:46-47, I see two arteries that bring life to this first church community. The first is centered on praising the Lord. Recall the angels and shepherds in Luke 2 as they praised the coming Messiah. Picture all the saints and elders in Revelation gathered and praising the Lamb of God. Think about how your favorite Psalm or musical worship ushers you in to praise. That’s the type of Spirit-filled, joyful praise we see in the early church. Stott puts it this way, “Every worship service should be a joyful celebration of the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ.” Consider all the worship elements that we experience in a Sunday service together at Eastview. Simply put, a central part of real community is worship.
The second life giving artery is focused on gathering together. The early church consistently gathered in two main ways; formally and informally. Examine Acts 2:46 again. It was ingrained in this new community the need for and commitment to gathering together both formally (Temple) and informally (house to house).
Their risky faithfulness is noteworthy. Just a few months earlier, Jesus was brutally crucified and now his followers are gathering together daily in the most public forum in the city worshipping, praying, and praising Jesus. The same religious leaders who killed Jesus are now watching this community fearlessly worship him. In a short time to come Peter and John will be arrested (chapter 4), and Stephen will be seized and stoned as the first martyr (chapters 6 & 7).
To be fair to the text, real Biblical community, then and now, is not a fad, a trending topic, an overnight YouTube sensation, a hippie or hipster ideation, or a casual committance to something whenever it feels right. Instead, it’s a continually committed community that constantly stays the course. In a word, it’s lasting.
The early church fearlessly committed themselves to a lasting worship and praise of Jesus regardless of the cost. We desire to emulate this lasting worship through gathering together formally on Sundays and informally in homes throughout our community.
One of our major problems isn’t persecution, however, its commitment. In our culture, a “regular” church goer attends on average 1.4 times a month and a typical small group member attends their group 50% of the time. This indicates a commitment to other things. What do you commit yourself to that is lasting? May we fearlessly commit to community that is centered on lasting worship.
Reason for Hope
“Jesus asked, ‘Do you finally believe? But the time is coming – indeed it is now when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.’” John 16:31-33 NLT
I love that the Bible is brutally honest. There’s no diluting or pretending that life is easy or without pain. This is one of Jesus’ last conversations with His disciples before His crucifixion. He’s preparing them for life without His physical presence. It’s an honest conversation from a good friend saying, “Good bye- I’m leaving you but don’t worry!” This is a scary picture that Jesus is painting. Yet, these final words give hope.
Jesus offers peace. You will be tempted to believe that you are alone or your trials have been targeted at you. You don’t have to pretend that life is ok. God invites you to cry out to Him. He welcomes your doubts, fears, and grief. In your troubles, remember that you are never alone. You have a Savior that protects you and comforts you. This earth and the problems with this address are only temporary.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NIV
Worthy of Our Idolatry
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:4-6 ESV
Often when we read this passage from the Ten Commandments, which God gave to Moses to give to the Israelites and ultimately to us, we tend to dismiss that we could have an idol or idols in our lives. We quickly think of pictures of people praying to statues or images of gods asking for healing and prosperity. We then look around our house, work and environments and see no sculptures or images of people or things that we are praying to or putting our hope in.
But wait…God’s definition of an idol is so much more than something like a statue that someone prays to. God sees idols as any person or thing that we put great love, reverences or adoration in. To say it another way, here’s a few questions to ask yourself as to whether you have an idol in your life.
- Is something causing you to disobey God?
- Does something give you greater joy than your relationship with Christ?
- What do you think about the most?
- What do you talk about the most with other people?
- What do you most enjoy spending time on?
How you answered these questions might help you point to the idols in your lives. I have to admit that as I answer these questions myself, today, I have idols in my life that need to take a backseat to my relationship with Christ.
Ask these idol-uncovering questions to yourself every 3 months and see how they might grow your relationship with the only one worthy of our idolatry, Christ our creator.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 ESV
I don’t know about you, but for me sometimes, listening is hard work, especially when I am listening to something that doesn’t interest me. It’s easy in our culture, with the vast variety of technology and entertainment options, to pick and choose. Online social networks allow us to get just enough information from friends and family without having to invest a lot of time. Of course, this approach doesn’t work so well when we want to communicate with real people such as our spouse, family, co-workers and neighbors!
One of the best ways to show that you truly care about and love someone is to listen to them. When you are invited into a conversation, you are invited into that person’s life for a short while. You may not be crazy about the conversation, or you may not feel you have time, but stop and take time to invest and listen. You have the opportunity to be an example of God’s love and let his light shine through you by just listening.
I challenge you, and me, to make time to listen to others when they want to talk. God asks us to represent Him to others by loving one another. God always takes time to listen when we are ready to talk to Him! Listening is another way to show God’s love.
The Joy of Kingdom Investing
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
When we know the worth of something we joyfully pay the price.
I’m always a little skeptical of sale items. As a thrifty shopper, I rarely buy things full price; but, sales lead me to believe something is wrong with the product, and that the store is trying to move it out.
I’m grateful that the kingdom of heaven isn’t a clearance item.
The eternal life offered to us in Jesus is a treasure of great worth.
Some of us are bargain hunters like the merchant searching for fine pearls. Some of us are oblivious wanderers like the man walking in the field. However, all of us know when we see an item of great value.
The abundant life offered in Christ is both the hidden treasure and the valuable pearl.
It cost God a great deal to manufacture, and it costs us everything to purchase.
The joy displayed in the first parable reminds me that buying something of great worth is satisfying. Purchasing a quality product feels good. The joy experienced in Kingdom investing isn’t a “buyer’s high” that will fade with time. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and, as He abides in us, that fruit is ever-increasing.
When was the last time you made a Kingdom investment?
Are you bargain hunting when it comes to the kingdom or are you willing to pay full price?
Is there anything in your life that needs to go so that more joy can abide?
“So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you…” Col 3:5 (NLT)
I put off cleaning out my vegetable garden beds this spring and finally began the process last week. I was surprised to find that there are some volunteer tomato plants coming back. This was a mixed blessing because the plan was to mow down the weeds in the garden, but since I noticed the plants coming up among the weeds, I knew I would need to work to pull the weeds by hand in order to keep the valued tomato plants.
Weeding always tends to remind me of the nature of sin and the work it takes to put it to death, as our verse today instructs. Sometimes weeds are obviously not plants and it is easy to identify them. Other times, you have to look more carefully to see it for what it is since it has gotten entangled with the plants you don’t want to rip out. This is similar to how some sins are obvious to us, and some are lurking in our hearts and don’t become obvious until the “big ones” have been dealt with first. Also, the longer a weed has been allowed to hang out in the fertile soil of a garden, the bigger it gets and the harder it is to pull out from the root and be rid of for good.
Gratefully, Jesus conquered sin. But if you haven’t noticed, even though we are totally righteous through our faith in him, we still wrestle with our sin nature (Rom 7). The Holy Spirit helps us “see the weeds” and repent as we cooperate with him (Gal 5). He is still doing the heart work, but we get to participate. We are valuable enough to him to put in the work.
Last week we began the first of four prescriptive statements about real Biblical community. It must be centered on the Word of God. There is nothing more vibrant and active than learning and living the Word of God within our relationships.
As we continue, I encourage you to read through Acts 2:42-47 again. Take note of all the ways the first church interacted with each other; in particular the actions that produced a common-union. There is something unique about this community that sets it apart from those around it.
Within my first month of employment at Baylor University back in the early 2000′s, I broke one of my fingers to the extent that it required surgery. The plan was to lay low for the few days of recommended recovery. To my surprise, my boss and his wife invited me into their home. For three days they took care of me like I was their own son. That level of generosity and love was “ridiculous.” They cared for my needs without an ounce of expectation and it produced a common-union between us. That same type of ridiculous love happened routinely within the first church.
Descriptive phrases like: ”. . . . Had all things in common . . . and they were selling their possessions. . . . and distributing the proceeds to all . . . with glad and generous hearts. . ,” all point to this common-union. What set them apart from every other community was their unconditional devotion and love for each other. This union was not political, where redistribution is mandated or coerced, it was spiritual, where people live outside of themselves and love out of an abundant and generous heart. For more insight, I suggest reading John 13:34-35, Romans 12:9-13, Deuteronomy 15:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, and 1 Peter 3:8.
One of our four major values in small groups is to “Give of ourselves in various ways.” The first church modeled this well; real Biblical community is centered on loving each other well. May we be seen as a community that loves in a “ridiculous” way.