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Day 4, Acts 4

Though there is much to be intriguing here, my eye was captured by 4:33–34 “And God’s grace was to powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.”

Talk about a compelling picture of the church!

First, I noticed God’s grace wasn’t just at work within the church’s leadership, although it started there. God’s grace was working in them all. What a great image! That means that the whole church … and there were 5000 of them, remember – was focused on one thing: Jesus Christ and in following his ways. When the church puts the ministry and the mission of Jesus above all else, then God’s grace just naturally flows through us in powerful ways.

Second, the church took care of each other. For me, this is a key tenet of what it means to Be the Church. The church members step up and take care of One-Another. Notice, the author (Luke) is careful to let his readers know that the benevolence of the church was focused on those who were practicing members of the church: there were no needy persons among them. It wasn’t the apostles who were doing the member care, though they clearly were the ones who put procedures into place for the distribution of the funding (4:35). It was the church … those “all” of verse 33 who made effective membership care so … well, effective!

What would it be like to be a part of a church that took seriously this key tenet? – that members take care of the needs of members. For me, that’s what it means to Be the Church!

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Day 3, Acts 3

Chapter 3 is in many ways like Chapter 2. There’s a pattern we see emerging:

  1. Something happens that draws a crowd.
  2. There is powerful preaching of the gospel.
  3. There is a powerful response by the crowd.

Unless you read ahead just a bit, you might miss the “moral of the story” because the story of the healing the lame man doesn’t really come to an end until mid-way through Chapter 4. The most important result is found in 4:4 where we’re told that the number of households that believed grew to about 5,000, an increase of 2000.

I come away from this with a couple of truths.

First, we’re beginning to see the pattern that will continue that shows how Matthew 5:16 was being put into action by the church (“Let y’all’s light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”). In other words, the purpose of doing good works isn’t so much to relieve suffering, but to create a leverageable opportunity to share the gospel.

Second, effective preaching must have a point … a call to action … so that those who hear the message know exactly what’s expected of them.

And third: Numbers count. Throughout the Gospels and through the book of Acts we’re going to see that the church keeps track … they count. So far we know there were 11 apostles and they felt the need to have 12. There were 120 participants in the first church. Peter’s first sermon resulted in 3000 new Christians. And his second sermon resulted in another 2000. And those numbers are important because every one of those numbers points to a person desperately in need of reconciliation with God through Jesus.

What good thing can you do today in the presence, and for the benefit, of those who are unbelievers and how will you leverage it for the sake of the kingdom?

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Day 1, Acts 1

If you signed up to take a “big bite” of the scriptures with me and others in the church, here’s the starting place (well, the Bible is the starting place, but I hope you get the drift!).

There is much that jumps out at me (intrigues me) in Acts 1, even after having read it more than any other book in the Bible. The book of Acts is the primary record we have of how those closest with Jesus put the Lord’s vision for the church into place – and thus the source for understanding what a faithful effective church could look like. BUT it’s also an unvarnished record of some of the early failures of First Church in Jerusalem, as you’ll see over the next 8 days – starting with today!

So, here’s what intrigued me. In Acts 1:8 Jesus told his apostles that “You will be my witnesses …” They were Plan A and was the only plan Jesus had. I think most of us understand that Jesus’ pronouncement was his vision for the church, not just a job description for the chosen apostles.

Then in 1:22 Peter stands up in the assembly (the church of 120) and says they need to replace Judas “… for one of these must become a witness.”

Although there has been much ado made about the method of choosing Matthias as the replacement (the apostles cast lots, that is, they essentially used the roll of the dice), I think there’s a more pressing issue here. This passage shows the beginning of the end of the Jerusalem church. Here we see a glimmer of Peter’s belief that there is an elevation of clergy above the laity. “It is necessary to choose one of these so they can be a witness with us of the resurrection.” And so the lot fell to Matthias and the “others” were not chosen to be a witness.

The reality is, everyone in the church is called to be a witness: both who have had a personal encounter with him and those who have seen Jesus intervene in other’s lives. A witness is someone who reports what they have witnessed, what they have seen, and what they have experienced. We’re all tasked with disciple making, with helping unbelievers to say “Yes!” to Jesus. And that is not a clergy-only job. That command was given to us all.

Yes, clergy do have a priority in the church … but that’s not a priority of privilege over the laity. Instead, they’re trained to lead the church, to organize and administrate, to manage, and to train the rest to church to “equip the people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12–13).

All that’s to say, being a witness to the unbeliever isn’t just a clergy job (though it’s definitely ONE of our core tasks); being a witness is Job 1 of every person in the church.

What’s Jesus done in your life that others need to hear about?

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How To … Deepen Your Spiritual Life

It wasn’t so long ago that a major mega church surveyed their members about their contentment with their spiritual lives. The results were revealing. The majority … actually quite a majority … were less than thrilled with the state of their spiritual lives.

Over the past years in both the pulpit and as a church consultant, I’ve found that most members in most churches had a yearning for a deeper, more meaningful, spiritual life. And so I thought I’d offer a couple practices that you could engage to help you take your spirituality to the next level.

First, let’s be clear. The church isn’t responsible for your spiritual life. It is of course responsible for providing you tools to have the deepest spiritual life possible, but you have to actively use the tools if you’re going to see any lasting results.

Second, attending a worship service every week isn’t going to do much for your spiritual life. Worship is a good and necessary spiritual practice, but on its own it isn’t enough to take you to spiritual centeredness.

Third, attending and participating in a typical Sunday School Class won’t do it either. Christian education, as it’s generally practiced in the US, will teach you a lot about God, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit, and about the Bible. But it’s not designed to deepen your spiritual life … education simply can’t do that.

So, with that out of the way, let’s talk about some of the things that will transform your spirit.

  1. It’s a personal thing. In other words, no one can “make you” become a spiritually focused person. You have to be intentional in your engagement. Whether you’re attending worship, a small group, reading scripture, etc. nothing transformative will happen if you don’t engage the process with the intention of getting the most out of the experience.
  2. Start with scripture. There’s a reason that the first spiritual habit I’ve been asking the leaders to engage in is reading the Bible. I can’t explain it, other than to say it’s a “God Thing,” but when people read the scriptures regularly, they begin to see a spiritual deepening.If you’ve not been a Bible reader in the past, let me suggest you use a translation of the Bible that’s easy to read and understand … and then start in the Gospel of Mark. Mark is short, fast paced, and you’ll get the basics of what Jesus taught. And learning what Jesus said is key … after all, Christianity is named after him!
  3. Begin to pray. The vast majority of Americans say they pray, but blessing someone who cut you off in traffic is not the kind of prayers that will help you much. Spending time in prayer is a key to personal spiritual development. HOW you pray is something else again. Today, most “Christians” learned how to pray in one of two ways. Either they memorized prayers as a child “God is good. God is great. Let us thank him for our food. Amen.” or they memorized prayers later in life “Our Father, who art in heaven …” or, most often, they learned to pray by listening to others pray aloud. And often that meant they learned to pray by listening to the “pastoral prayer” on Sunday morning. The only problem with that is often these prayers are pre-composed in the pastor’s study and are often delivered with an air of reverence and holiness. That leaves many beginning prayer-ers thinking, “I couldn’t do that!”
    But prayer is just talking to God, so using everyday language works just fine. “Hi God, it’s me. What a great day! Really. The boss piled on extra responsibilities without so much as a please. My coworker took my idea and turned it into hers and got the promotion I thought I was going to get. And I bounced two checks. What’s up with that? ” (Yes, God understands sarcasm just fine.) I’ve written a couple of books on prayer if you want to learn more (Prayer for People Who Can’t Sit Still and High-Voltage Spirituality) and I’ll be leading a class on prayer later in the fall.The key to a prayer life is to do the Nike thing … Just Do It! Take a few minutes regularly (every day seems like a good idea) and find a quiet place. “God, I’m here. Let’s talk.” And then talk … and then listen. It’ll take a bit to get used to it, but if you’ll practice, you’ll find it starts to work on you from the inside out.
  4. Find a mentor. This one’s a bit more “out there,” but there is no better way to deepen your spiritual life than to find a mentor who has what you want and who can help you get it. There are lots of ways to get a mentor, one of which is to simply ask someone: “I want to have a better spiritual life. Would you be willing to help me get that?” Second, you can choose to spend more time with spiritually centered people. Every Sunday there are spiritual focused people who show up here at RCC … hang out with them. Model yourself after their patterns. For instance, I visit a local coffee shop or cafe every day of the week to read scripture, to pray, to journal, and to get spiritually centered for my day. If you’re free in the early morning hours you can join me for prayer time (Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. at the Newz Room; Thursday – Sunday 6:30 a.m. at various other stops – I’m still checking out places, so don’t have a regular stop on the other days yet … you can email me the night before and I’ll let you know where).  Third, you can join a small group … we’ll be launching small groups in the fall – let us know of your interest on the Connection Cards on Sundays and we’ll make a place for you when the time comes.
  5. Engage worship with the church. Worship in and of itself won’t deepen your spiritual life, but it’s nearly impossible to be spiritually grounded without joining with the church for worship. But you’ll only get out of it what you put into it. I refuse to “feed” anybody over the age of a year-old. We all must learn to feed ourselves … which is the point of this whole post. And though I’m uninterested in feeding people, I’m very interested in ensuring the table is set with everything you need to have a full spiritual meal. Every Sunday there is uplifting, spiritually-attuned music. There is a message that comes from the Bible and provides real life applications (check out the Count Me In! box on the weekly Connection Cards). The Lord’s Supper invites you to contemplate and participate in the sacrifice Jesus made. And the offering gives you an opportunity to help make a difference in our church and our community. Come with heart that’s hungry and the intention to engage and you’ll be filled.

There’s plenty more I could write, but this is enough to get you started on the path to a deeper spiritual life. Do these regularly and consistently and I promise you’ll begin to see your life transform.

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Day 2, Acts 2

Today my eyes fell to 2:42–47 and the creation of The First Church of Jerusalem.

From a prayer meeting of 120, and with the incredible empowering of the Holy Spirit, Peter preaches the sermon of all sermons and 3000 households turned to Christianity.

But here’s the dilemma. The mission of the church is to make disciples, to help unbelievers say “Yes!” to Jesus. And there’s a difference between making “converts” and making “disciples.” It takes more than just showing up once a week for a worship service to become a disciple. So, the apostles were stuck trying to turn unbelievers into fully effective disciples of Jesus.

Q: How in the world do you disciple 3000+ when there are only 120 faithful church members?

A: Everyone in the church steps up to do their part.

BUT their part wasn’t about “running the church.” It was about Being the Church. Their stepping up was the adoption of the new believers and helping them into the faith. The 120 didn’t build programs or write curriculum; instead, they started meeting together with their new friends in homes and in public places to (1) eat together – fellowship and sharing their lives; (2) to attend to the apostles’ teaching – discussing and applying the apostle’s “sermons” and so on; and (3) to grow in favor of those outside the fellowship so that the Lord had the opportunity to “add to their numbers.”

The part that intrigued me the most in this passage was the realization that Jesus doesn’t send the Spirit to do our job for us. It’s our job to build relationships with those outside the faith … to build “favor of all the people” … so that the Lord can add to the church those who are coming into the faith.

So, there are two parts (for me) in today’s reading. First, there’s the disciple-making part. There were 3000 new converts desperately needing to be discipled. That meant there were 25 for each church member to adopt, to befriend, and to train. Can you say “Small Groups” that weren’t being led by the pastoral staff?

Then second, there’s the building favor with the unchurched. One of the fruits of faithful discipleship is building bridges into the community. Your house is a mission outpost and you are the missionary posted there to reach your personal mission field (your neighborhood). We’re called to BE disciples who are learning better how to be a faithful follower of Jesus. But simultaneously, we’re called to be missionaries who are building favor with those in our neighborhoods so that we can be a witness.

Two questions, then. (1) Who are you discipling? And (2) How will you be building favor with the unbelievers in your personal mission field this week?