Friday, June 5, 2015

It's All Coming Together

into    ACTS

Commencing countdown...

Acts 2:42-47

New International Version (NIV)

The Fellowship of the Believers

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 3:11-26

New International Version (NIV)

Peter Speaks to the Onlookers

11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.
17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’[a]
24 “Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. 25 And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’[b] 26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

 New Beginnings. They are truly beautiful. 

The event of Pentecost is just such a moment.
 It's all brand new. A shining moment in the history of a persecuted and troubled faith. 
3000 people came into the Christian family that day. Immediately people feel the desire to start using what they have to serve the Lord and others. 4 things become important right away. 

The Apostle teachings.
The breaking of bread. 


At the beginning of anything, a movement, a relationship, a new job, a new home; everything seems peachy. "All the believers were together and had everything in common." Wow. This truly is "the beginning". In the beginning of a brand new relationship that's how things feel. Peachy. When my wife and I first got together it was that way. I hadn't reconnect with my love for college football yet. (I wasn't a fan during those years with John Cooper at the helm of the Buckeyes.) She joined up with me thinking I had no passion for sports. She was not and has never been a real fan of sports. She felt as if we had that in common. Then, Jim Tressell came to coach the Buckeyes and my world was changed. In 2002, he led our Buckeyes to a amazing double overtime win in the Fiesta Bowl for the National Championship. But, so was my wife's world. This piece of us that she thought we were on the same page about... It was not so. That's how relationships go. People do change. People have differing viewpoints. Viewpoints can change over time. Right now, the believers are all on the same page. As we turn these pages, we'll find out that they are not. But, for now, enjoy the moment.

I should say something here about fundamentalism. If you're not familiar with the term, you should understand that there are Christian who believe we should go back to the basics of Christianity and read the New Testament, trying to do everything just exactly as the early Christians we read here would have done. It's as if people think we should turn back time and live Acts chap 2 exactly as it is written in order to be the Christians that God wants us to be. There is real danger in interpreting the scriptures in this fundamental way. It creates a warped view of context. Many non-denominational churches that get started are built with this simplistic view of going back to the basics of belief only to eventually find that the complexity of what other people believe comes to the forefront and will have to be dealt with on a personal level. In the beginning it might seem as if everyone is on the same page, believing the same things, sharing the same commonality. Then people begin to express themselves and their personalities begin to shine. Then diversity begins to evolve and it's a shock to the system of a fundamentalist. That kind of viewpoint breeds legalism that will divide groups of people over the idea that just because these early believers did it this or that way means we have to absolutely do it this or that way also. Beware the legalism of fundamentalism.

It also suggests here that they believers all sold their possessions and threw everything they had into a community pile. They gave to anyone in need. Wow. Could you do that? The disciples had to leave everything they had and follow Jesus when he called them to come. Now, these early believers at the start of the church have done a similar thing. They give up what they have. They don't seem to be on a trek around the country like the twelve had been doing. But, they feel the need to vacate items that they would call their own and give to those who have little or nothing. This is true fellowship. It does not involve simply sitting down together and coexisting for a hour or so while we eat and drink refreshments. It's actually listening to the needs and cares of others and then being available to meet those needs. It seems the most pertinent way to meet those needs is to give up what we have in our own own hands. 

It also has to do with meeting together regularly. Church life in modern America is feeling that sharp edge of being booted from the mainstream of social regularity by outside interests. Sports has become a big deal on Sundays. I'm truly glad people can find fellowship. It's just not spiritual fellowship. Certainly, there is like-mindedness. Is God a part of it? There is central part of our lives that needs to be filled with a gift only God can give. We find that when we meet together as a church, as a spiritual body. The job front is another distraction. People are being required to work on the weekend more and more. A case can be made that Sunday is not truly the Sabbath day. We could argue that Saturday is actually the last day of the week. In doing so, we allow ourselves to be pulled into a world where we don't truly define for ourselves a day of rest a all. SO, we work. And, we work. AND, we work.

 While I was pastor at my first church outside of Marion, OH I would travel up to Galion for a job at a discount store. However, that job almost was not to be. As I sat in that interview, the boss made it clear that there would be some hours needed on Sunday. They really wanted me on this job. For one, I had been at this store about three years prior. I had a background in grocery & retail. I could stock and keep records pretty good. The boss wanted me there. But, I could not accompany those Sunday items about the job. I explained I was behind a pulpit and the church had services morning & evening on Sunday. As we seemed to reach a stalemate, I smiled and began to get up from my chair. The boss just looked at. "Sit down", she said, and we worked it out. "Work me to death, Monday through Saturday, all you want.", I said, "But, Sunday I have to be in church." And, that's what we did. Standing up for what we believe and making God the priority can only bring about blessing in our life. That was not the first job where I had stood up for my faith and my Sunday mornings. I had done it on previous jobs as well. Sunday for church has always been important. My job at the Flying J gas depot only lasted three weeks back in 2001 because I didn't show up on Sunday. I told them when they hired me. But, they went ahead and put me on the schedule any way. I just didn't show up. Team leader met me one day when I came to work and notified I was done. Too bad for them. I was willing to work hard. But, Sundays during church time were off limits. My faith and my desire to be in church meant more than making a buck. 

They broke bread together. We are having communion this morning, also.
There's nothing like this tradition in any religion on the planet. No other religious leader for any major religion gave their life in such a way and then left a ritual behind that commemorates the moment is such a tremendous display of grace and humility. We don't have a word here on the frequency of their habit. Just that they did it often. "
They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts..." The early believers tradition was to have a feast. Maybe, it was similar to a potluck meal. (Methodists, rejoice!) When Jesus met with his disciples in the Upper Room, it was for a meal or a feast. The items that we use for our communion are meant to be symbols of what they would have used or done in their meal. Our bread is most likely not the same. They probably had real wine. These items were taken in during the course of eating the meal. That started by breaking bread. They finished by drinking from the cup. They did it to remember him; the One who gave his life for the sins of the world. This is what they were taught by the apostles to believe and to practice. A tradition we still carry to this day. 

Last week we covered the passage at the beginning of Chap 3 where John and Peter were coming into the temple for prayer. They healed a man by the gate called Beautiful. Then comes a speech that Peter will give instructing all as what they should believe about Christ. The first thing he says is to assure the crowd that none of what they have seen is because of themselves. Let our opening statements about Christ center around the One who deserves the attention. Peter speaks about faith in the name of Jesus. He minces no words about believing in Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation. Repentance is key to follow this teaching. We must turn away from our sin and not allow it to tell us what to do. What must turn to Christ and put our faith in him. Only then will we experience the forgiveness and refreshment for our souls that has been promised. This is why God sent his Messiah, his One and Only Son. Everybody seems to be on board with this message. There are no nay-sayers in the crowd. No hecklers. No rebel-rousers. The listen and seem to follow the teaching that is given to them. 

It's all coming together.
Jesus had to die. He rose from the grave.They witnessed him go back to heaven. 
The Holy Spirit has come. The Spirit has filled the disciples and given them power from on high.
People are being healed. Messages are being preached. People are listening and coming to God. 

New beginnings are awesome. 

Enjoy it while it lasts.

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