Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Church: God's style

Did you know that a lot of what many call "church" today is far removed from what God designed it to be?
Here are some of my thoughts on this, from looking at the early church:

Suggestion I've heard: "We need to get back to the early church"

1.    Idealistic living vs. reality- It was a blessed time, that is for sure!  Yet, if you read Paul's letters you will see that there was one problem, people.  For all have sinned and have fallen short of God's glorious standard.  Where there are people there are issues.  So remember, the early church had plenty of issues too.  We focus on Acts 2:42-47 yet forget the Judaizers, Paul's long and often boring messages (one killed Euticus), the Lord's Supper issues in Corinth, the immorality in the church, the lukewarmness, the ...  I can hear you saying, yes, but if we just focus on the good, then we won't have that.  True, after God restores all things.  However, on earth you have to take the good and help out the bad if you can.  In this world, we will have troubles.

Slight digression- I see a lot of this with kids and marriage today.  People fall in love with the idealistic and sometimes reject reality & dump their spouse when reality falls short of idealistic.  This is not good.  Some people need to get real and realize that they married Ken but really got Archie Bunker.  Love Archie, pray for Archie, care for Archie, and find your first love and identity in Christ.  Or if you are a guy, you expected Kelly Kapowski, and ended up with Madea.  Ok, back on track again...

2.   These people weren't just hippies.  They had jobs back in the day.  Love for God & people        
      was a HUGE priority.

Scripture Acts 2:42-47

Their Core Values
"They devoted themselves to:
the apostles’ teaching
to fellowship,
to the breaking of bread
to prayer.

*Note: The core values were not just organizational, they were personal.

The Apostle's Teaching- Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16)-
Sadly, this is rare (ie-CEF-most churches in Montgomery County cannot agree to the Statement of Faith that says God's word is inspired and inerrant.)
Are you devoted to the READING of God's word on a personal level?
At Harvest we are committed to God's word.  And we will be committed to God's word.  It is a personal and organizational core value.  We are committed to it personally, in our small groups and Bible studies, in our leadership, in our Children's ministry, in our partnership with community, and in our worship services.

2.    To fellowship- Community
More on this later on in the passage.
3.    To the breaking of bread-
"For Jews then and now, fellowship was mediated by meals.  To say that early Messianic Jews broke bread is to say neither more nor less than that they ate together." JNT Commentary
When possible, religious Jews begin a meal with bread and say over it a b'rakhah.  For the early church Christian, they continued this 'breaking of bread' to recall Jesus' death for them as they began their meal (he is the blessing).
Rabbi El'zazar be-'Azayah (1st-2nd century CE) said, "If there is no meal there is no Torah, and if there is no Toran there is no meal." Not to be legalistic here, but to show the significance and blessing that comes with the meal.
The meal was so significant that it was called a "love feast". This breaking of bread reminded us to align ourselves with Jesus, to give a thankful heart to him, and to remind us to enjoy the umbrella of His blessing to us.

4.    to prayer- Both formal Jewish prayers (seeing that they were still Jewish) and pouring out the hear to the Lord spontaneously (Acts 4:24-30).

Their Attitude-Awe (Phobos-fear, trembling, respect, reverence.  A holy hush in the clear presence of God)
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
Who did the signs and wonders? The apostles.  Is this normative for us today? No.
Can God do miracles in our midst today? Yes.  I have seen it. Amazing things still happen today. We see it but are afraid to sound weird so we don't talk about it.  Or, we have a weird idea that any move of God has to be a big production, so we miss where He is doing amazing things! (1 Kings 19:11-13-God often works in the whisper.  A whisper only heard with by skilled ears)  People are healed of cancer, large tumors disappear, physical disease on the skin shrivels and falls off, spiritual blindness, spiritual lameness, spiritual deafness, psychological distress all healed, demons removed, sin is uncovered so they can deal with it, marriages are restored, relationships are reconciled, drug addicts are immediately healed, perspectives changed, people feel loved for the first time, children are choosing Jesus, adults are choosing Jesus, people are laying down important idols to pick up Christ, people are fed, clothed, burdens are shared, needs are met, etc...
Once again, idealism vs. reality.  When the apostles healed people, do you think there were fireworks?  Was it a Benny Hinn event?  (James 5:13-20)
Signs and wonders were done exclusively by the 11.  The purpose of signs and wonders are to establish a message.  They serve as an exclaim action point.  When some people say they want to get back to the early church, what they are saying is that they want fireworks, the signs.  God wants us to go deeper and walk in faith and believe that God is among them.  He wants them not to depend on fireworks, but in Him. God is still at work today, just as He was back then.  When you learn to see how he works, and get in relationship with Him and His people, you will see what I mean.

Fellowship- Their Practice-Community (cf. Acts 4:32-37)(koinonia- intimate relationship)
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

This is the fun part.  In a sense we see socialism, but not forced socialism (see Acts 5:1-11-Ananias and Sapphira could do what they wanted with the money)
They practiced "socialism" by caring for the needs of others.  They even sold property & possessions so that they could help those in need.
The widows, the unemployed (due to persecution because of conversion to Jesus), the homeless, the hungry, the unclothed, the orphans.  They had eyes to see the needs of others.
Shane Claiborne, book "Irresistible Revolution"-he cared for people in Philly, Keith Green-people in need were a welcome inconvenience, etc...
Are there needs in our congregation?  Do you have eyes to see?  Not just physical needs but also spiritual needs.  Does a young person need discipleship or encouragement, does an older person need someone to listen to their stories-and you learn from them, can you help a marriage, a teen come to know Jesus and navigate Satan's playground, etc...
-The ethic needs to be personal-you do this.  Then, as you are contagious, it may flow into our congregation.

To summarize this- they really loved people!  Just as Jesus told them to do.
I can see it now, brining coffee to a widows house, sitting with them and studying the Bible, confessing sins, and praying for one another.  A group of believers coming over to my house, eating a meal, drinking coffee or whatever, people sharing struggles, praying for them, encouraging them, and learning from God's teaching together.  Planning ways to help one another, and to invite our neighbors to join us.  People's spiritual blindness healed, deafness healed, spiritual legs strengthened, hands steadied into doing eternal things, husbands becoming more like Jesus, wives more like Jesus, children laying down idols of self and approval, financial freedom, spiritual growth, and occasionally a physical healing.
The broken- hugged, the sad- encouraged, the hurting-heard and then helped, the insecure- strengthened in Christ.  Awesome!  This is the church I want to be a part of.

Their Location
The Temple Courts-Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.
How did they do this with jobs and family?  I think they were glad to go when they could.  It was assumed that they would meet weekly, and history shows that they met on both Saturday and Sunday (eventually Sunday)

In Homes- 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.
(Cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-34-by contrast, the Corinthian Church struggled with this eating TOGETHER) (Contrast the early church in Hebrews 10:24-25- a falling away from this)

Home was the place where the deep fellowship happened.  It is where they really enjoyed koinonia. This was "church".  This is why we have Small Groups.  It is the model of church where we all use our gifts.  In a SG there is the gifts of teaching, encouragement, hospitality, intercession, evangelism, helps, shepherding, etc... Being used.  Then we come together on Sunday to celebrate Jesus together.

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
Is the mark of a healthy church numerical growth?  No, many cults grow.
Rather, it was the result of God.  Having a Masers focused on church health, I can say that not having a structure to care for people makes growth pointless.  Often, God will bring people to places where they can be cared for.  Is our church a place that can handle new believers?  Do we have a way to care for them and disciple them, so they can become more like Jesus, and bring in their friends and family?

Once again, this is personal.  Do you desire to disciple people?  To help people grow in their faith?  First, can you take them toward Jesus? If you are not growing in your faith, you can't, and God is too smart to send people to you.  Second, Do you know what to do with people if God was to give you people? What would you say, how would you teach?  Most churches in the USA are nothing more than a group of people collecting offering to pay some guy to speak & say nice things to them, and pay off the mortgage of the building that they use to need.   They aren't growing personally, and therefore they aren't growing spiritually as a congregation either.  May we never allow this to happen.

When we enjoy Jesus and do what he says to do, the church benefits and our fellowship will be a blessing to us and to those who will come.

However, although this sounds great, and let's totally do this, their is the problem of us living in a fallen world with brokenness.  Because of that, the ideal will always be hindered by reality and if we are not careful, the ideal can become an idol.  Proverbs 14:4, "Where there are no oxen, the stable is clean." The early church had plenty of problems. One of the beautiful things of fellowship is to see people come alongside one another to biblically help them with their problems.

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