Acts 2:42-47., Church

Spot the difference…

Occasionally they spent some time listening to the apostles’ teaching and, when they could, they met together for fellowship, for the breaking of bread and for prayer.

Awe came upon some of them. But there were no signs and wonders. All who believed were separated into groups and kept themselves apart in all they did; they would hoard their possessions and goods and show indifference to those in need.

Day by day, they went about their lives as individuals, only meeting weekly or fortnightly in the temple. They broke bread at home alone and ate their food with cold and empty hearts, giving token thanks to God. They were held in contempt by all the people. And day by day their numbers dwindled and it seemed that few were being saved.

or perhaps…

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 favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Sadly we know which one is in the Bible, and we know which one we habitually see lived out in our Church communities.

Yet the question is how do we get from there to here? And what are you going to do about it.

This type of Church is not going to happen by a Church leader spelling out a vision, but by everyone learning how to BE Church in the way they live, serve and share together in radical corporate discipleship.

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Acts 2:42-47., Church, Worship

Hopelessly Devoted…

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 favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This morning we read through this passage again at our Blokes Breakfast… I asked people to see what word or phrase God ‘highlighted’ and interestingly the word ‘Devoted’ was the winner.

Conversation moved to talk about the number of Churches that say they want to be an Acts 2 Church, which normally means a desire to see signs and wonders, and God growing his Church (Acts 43 & 47).

Yet to be an Acts 2 Church isn’t simply about desiring the signs, wonders or even growth, these are symptoms of something much more important, they stem from our devotion to Christ and to the things of his heart.

We explored the word devotion, a word not used much today, it means both unwavering commitment and the ultimate of dedication but coming from a place of sacrificial love.

Seeking an Acts 2 Church is not like pursuing some Holy Grail, where we have to ‘tick the boxes’ of things listed in this passage (good things though they are) but primarily about (as my friend Paddy says) “Our hearts, touching his heart”. Unless these things stems from our love relationship with the Father, then they simply become good works, without love they are simple “a ringing cymbal or a clanging gong).

Are we people like David who was a man after Gods own heart?

Perhaps we need to grasp Augustine’s idea of “Love God and do whatever you please”? this isn’t a licence for any behaviour we fancy, but rather when we truly love our God, our will becomes entwined with his, and we love and long for his Kingdom.

Unless we seek God for himself, seek his face not just the works of his hands, we never fully know what it means to be the Church as God intended us to be.

Is perhaps the struggle the Western Church stems ultimately not from its lack of resources, but actually its lack of devotion.

Perhaps like the Church of Ephesus we have forsaken our first love?

Perhaps like the Church of Laodicea we are not as devoted to our Saviour as we should be an have “become neither hot nor cold”?

So, when we let God have our heart, we will long for his word -the apostles teaching, the words from the mouth of our Saviour, when we love God we love his people too, when we love God we remember his good news and his sacrifice made for us all, when we love God we come to him in prayer.

This isn’t a new commandment, earlier in Scripture we read “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”.

Jesus instructed his disciples to “Seek first the Kingdom of God” -which means to first seek the King and his Kingdom, treasure him before all else.

Too often we seek the treasure (as in the gifts) but we neglect that pearl of great price (Christ himself).

If we truly want to be an Acts 2 Church, it starts within us, in our hearts, with our devotion…

It starts with “Loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and strength” and from that overflow enables us to “Love our Neighbour as ourselves”,

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Acts 2:42-47., Church, Worship

Acts 2:42-47 (Part 2).

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 favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

“I want to be an Acts 2 Church” seems to be something most Vicars/Pastors/Church leaders say.

I agree I want to be an Acts 2 Church  as well.

Yet what does this actually mean?

Sadly, it often seems to mean playing Hillsong songs from an expensive PA system (a PA system which we wouldn’t share with anyone).

For the Acts 2 Church, Church was a lifestyle relational community, nothing about an hour a week on a Sunday, it’s a daily thing, a whole life ‘all the time’ commitment.

The Acts 2 Church wouldn’t understand the language of “going to Church” instead they were the Church, Church is something we are, not something we go to.

Church is the people and not the buildings, in fact the only buildings mentioned in Acts 2 are the Temple and their homes.

So much of modern day Church is about programmes, about events and special groups. I remember a job interview I went for and they had a group for everyone, but I asked the Youth Worker ‘do people here ever just hang out? Go for a coffee? Have a beer?’ -the unsaid answer was ‘no but we have a lot of groups and do a lot of events, and we are good at hospitality’… I often say “I don’t want us to be a friendly Church, but rather a Church where people can make friends in”.

In our individualistic world we inhabit the strong emphasis on the communal and the corporate is very counter cultural, but also something I believe the world craves. To often as Evangelical Christians we emphasis the personal relationship with God, the vertical relationship, yet we have done this at the expense of the horizontal relationship, the relationship with each other is critical, yet we often sell fellowship short by pretending it is small talk over some mediocre coffee and a partially stale rich tea biscuit.

Bonhoeffer discovered much of what it meant to be Church during the Second World War when the Confessing Church in Germany was illegal, and being Church could cost you your life, suddenly this made the Christians see Church very differently. Bonhoeffer spells this out in his letters from Prison and his masterpiece “life together”, where he talks about Christians having “two fellowships, the fellowship of the righteous and the fellowship of the sinners”. Fellowship of the righteous is superficial and polite but the fellowship of Sinners, is real, authentic and costly, but it is this kind of fellowship that you would want if meeting together will cost you your life. “Iron sharpening Iron as one person sharpens another”.

Words within this passage “devoted”, “daily”, “everything” all sounds pretty fired up and passionate, and yet I find that often Church feels apathetic an lethargic.

I remember hearing a speaker asking us Western Christians “where is our fire”? -Not a question I think you’d ask the Acts 2 guys.

These guys aren’t apathetic or lethargic, nor is their shared life of discipleship together half hearted.

When Albert R. Broccoli (great name!) and Harry Saltzman made the Bond films they formed a company Eon Productions, which stood for “Everything Or Nothing”. In many ways this picture we see of the early Church is an “Everything Or Nothing” community.

This is costly and sacrificial discipleship and Kingdom living, it costs everything, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Yet this echoes the words of Jesus who said “anyone who puts their hand to the plough and keeps looking back is not worthy to be my disciple”, “let the dead bury their own dead”, “pick up your cross and follow me”, “count the cost” and we see Christ looking and loving the Rich Young Ruler but not lowering the bar of discipleship for him.

Yet I think there is something wonderful and beautiful about this community, I think people are wanting something real, costly and authentic.

We see Church trying to be culturally relevant we see people wander away, but when we see people like St. Francis of Assisi,John Wesley and more recently Francis Chan challenge us to a deeper and more sacrificial discipleship we see people respond, the depth resonates with us.

With the Acts 2 Church we see practical help, generosity and sleeves rolled up service alongside the miraculous and supernatural break through too. My experience is that often Churches major on either the social justice to the exclusion of the miraculous or seek the supernatural but struggle with the demeaning service

I look at Church in Acts 2 and look at what we do today in our Churches, so much is more about programme than people, events rather than relationships, attractional rather than incarnational, conference inspired ‘of the peg’ formulas rather than prayerful strategy birthed from prophet revelation.

A picture I have found helpful when thinking about trying to embrace this model of Church, is that sometimes we notice just how clunky and ineffective our old armour is, it is like David in Saul’s armour, which simply didn’t fit him.

Yet maybe we don’t feel like we have yet “become David” we know that the old way doesn’t work, but we haven’t yet mastered how to operate a sling shot.

The image of new wine bursting from old wine-skins is something all of us who work in transition have had the painful experience of, sometimes we think the newer old wine-skins can take it. We hear our people telling us that “old wine is better” but unless New Wine is produced and stored the next generation wont have any wine.

I long for Church to be different, but I find in my attempts to go back to the Biblical basics not only do I feel like I am swimming against about 1’500 years of history (since Constantine’s conversion and Church and State become bed-follows and the birth of Christendom, which sadly often didn’t look much like Jesus).

I long for Church to be different, but I realise that deep within myself I discover my own conditioning about what I think Church is based on my experience of it, rather than my beliefs and convictions of what it should be.

It is easy too to read the book of Acts with a wistful “if only” type sigh, but we only have to flick through the next few pages of the story which features Annas and Sapharia’s embezzlement, a major row between the Hellenistic Widows and the Grecian Widows and persecution causing Christians to flee Jerusalem.

The Church in the book of Acts was once that faced huge challenges, but remained faithful even in the midst of great difficulty, when we think of being an Acts 2 Church, the call is to be faithful to Christ in all we do, whatever obstacles are thrown at us.

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Acts 2:42-47.

Acts 2:42. (Part 1)

Acts: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 favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

I’ve spent the last few days going over this passage with various groups, doing a bit of a “Lectio Divina” -reading the passage slowly two or three times- and seeing what words or phrases light up in our minds and hearts.

Here are some of the thoughts from this:

“Devoted” -a word we rarely use these days- but a word which means a loving commitment, and what were they committed to? They were committed to and loved the Apostles teaching (the words of Jesus from the lips of his eye witness disciples), and fellowship (committed to each other, supporting and encouraging each other in Christ “by this will all people know that you are my disciples that you love one another!”), the breaking of bread (remembering Christ’s sacrifice) and to prayer (the engine room of any Christian movement).

This early Church  are devoted to the right things, the things that actually matter.

The problem is people get devoted to things maybe that are not important, or at least less important: “the building”, “the history”, “the denomination”, “the style of worship” or perhaps even the “denomination”.

“Everyone was filled with awe” -On Sunday I spoke of the lack of awe and wonder in our worshipping life together. When I was a youth worker I used to talk about the “Wow factor”. When was the last time God made us (both as individuals and corporately) go “wow”!?

“at the many signs and wonders performed by the Apostles” -is the supernatural part of our daily experience of following Christ. Do we see, hear, notice and recognise what God has done and is doing  in our lives and the lives of those around us? Perhaps we need to share testimonies, our everyday experiences of God in our everyday lives? Do we come before him with bold expectancy (I know I don’t as much as I should).

The word “many” also struck me, knowing that I tell stories sometimes that are a decade old, are my experiences of God’s miraculous signs ‘few and far between’ like trying to pick out a raisin in a bowl of muesli.

All the disciples were together” often “togetherness” is something we don’t value enough as Christians, the power of ‘just being there’ is incredible, it is worth noting that many of the greatest miracles happened when the disciples were in pairs after-all “iron sharpens iron as one person sharpens another”.

“and had everything in common” –sharing our lives together with one another, rather than living our compartmentalised existence where our church life is confined to a box for an hour on a Sunday morning… In many Churches people don’t know each other, strangers in the pews, a brief handshake and polite small talk is often the extent of some Churchy relationships. Stemming from the view that “religion is a private matter, and I have nothing in common with my fellow spectators”.Church is seen as a service which is consumed rather than a family to belong to.

“They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need”  when we did this at a Churchy brunch, someone said, “if I’m a Christian and have lawn-motor, I should be generous and lend it out, so other Christians don’t have to buy one” -she’d got the idea!

Sadly our Church forked out a stack of cash for a new photocopier even though both neighbouring Churches also have flashy photocopiers -perhaps they’ve not got the idea?

Sadly the Church in the west is stingy and materialistic.

Too often practical problems are met with a sad but sympathetic smile and a murmur that we will pray for them.

Yet sometimes we are called not just to supernatural ministry, but to actually feed, cloth, love, share, bless, listen to people. I remember in Salisbury seeing some guys “Treasure Hunting” bouncing up to a homeless guy asking him if some prophetic words meant anything to him -they didn’t- and then they ran off… Allana and I bought him a cup of tea and a pasty.

We are called to be a generous people, helping those in need. Paul talks of “the body of Christ” where “one part suffers, every part suffers”… seeing what we have not as our possessions but Christ’s everything all belongs to Christ for his glory.

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts” -Church not hidden away behind closed doors, but out where people were, being out and about amongst the Spiritual seekers. The word “everyday” is key, this is whole life stuff, every day relationships with other believers, this is a real community with relationships.

“They broke bread in their homes and ate together” -the word together occurs again!

Togetherness is at the heart of the Gospel, the modern lense of individualism wasn’t in the mind-set of the early Church.

The idea of hospitality and sharing food together is the greatest intimacy of relationship within the Jewish world, its a sacred and spiritual act, perhaps this is why Jesus says in “behold I stand at the door and if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them” (Rev. 3:20).

with glad and sincere hearts” -gratitude and sincerity being at the core of who the Christians is.

“Praising God” -at the heart of what it means to be Church is worship, it all stems from our response to all that God is, and all that he has done for us and our gratitude.

“and enjoying the favour of all the people” I believe that there is something wonderfully and beautifully attractive about life lived God’s way, the world craves real community, people long for compassion, and a cause to live for. People saw the Church as something positive, rather than a fossilised irrelevance tainted by scandal.

“And the Lord added to their number” important to remember that God is the one who grows his Kingdom, Jesus said “I will build my Church”. At the heart of the first Christian community is the missionary God doing what only he can do, draw people to himself.

“Those who are being saved” not just drawing a crowd of spectators, but rather real people experiencing salvation.

At the heart of what is means to be Church is a missionary movement bringing salvation.

Salvation happening on a daily basis.

This Church isn’t all about a couple of Sunday meetings but rather about a missional lifestyle lived corporately and authentically, which serves practically but is expectant of the miraculous, with the words of Christ etched in its DNA, loving one another and remembering at the heart of it all is Christ crucified and resurrected remembered in communion together.

 

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