That's The Book: Acts
I sat in church this morning and was reminded October is Pastor Appreciation month. I thought about what my life would look like without my church. With no pastors or teachers or small group or faithful friends. Pretty bleak. Made me grateful. I've called pastors when life hit so hard I didn't know where to turn. Pastors have led the way. They've held my hand. They've hugged my children. Church has been a rock in my life. I know this isn't everyone's story.
The book of Acts is a riveting, fast paced and sometimes shockingly raw book. It tells the story of what happened to the people who believed in Jesus after they found his tomb empty. Essentially its a story of church.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer". Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believes were together and had everything in common. they sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the tempe courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being said. Acts 2:43-47
Small group! Every Wednesday my house is full of people figuring out how the Bible fits in their world. We talk, we laugh, sometimes we cry. We always eat. Never underestimate the power of a good meal. Good for the soul, good for reconciliation, good for building friendships. We pray. If you don't have a group of people who hold you accountable and who hold your hand on bad days and who cheer on good days then find one. Today. Join Celebrate Recovery or Precepts or Bible Study Fellowship. Call your neighborhood church and ask if they have Sunday school classes or coffee bible groups or life groups. Find some people. Commit to them. Eat and pray. If you can't find a group of people shoot me an email and I'll help you find some. Jesus knew we needed people. That's why he built the church.
One of the reasons I go to church is I frequently need some hard truth to change my path. The book of Acts if full of sermons which moved people to change.
"Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's deliberate plan and forknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him... Therefore let all Israel be assured of this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2: 22 -24 and 36-38.
So let's face it - pastors and church's aren't perfect. HA! NOPE. Sometimes they lose their way. Sometimes they let you down. Sometimes they are actually the enemy. Churchs can blow it big time. Exclude people. Hate people. Make people carry more than they can. Gossip, break trust. You name it.
It happened in Acts too. I find great comfort in the fact that the early church leaders didn't sugar coat the start. There was division, complaining, persecution and set backs. Disagreements and discouragement. Read the book, you'll see.
The two primary leaders were Peter and Paul. Remember these guys? Peter had denied Jesus at his time of greatest pain. Paul had actively chased and killed early church members before he himself was dramatically converted. If the early church could trust and grow under a flake and a murderer its because Jesus transforms people. He still does.
Whining happened too. Probably legitimately . The leaders figured it out.
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food." Acts 6: 1
God helped them work through some racist assumptions too.
Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism. But accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right" Acts 10:34-35. When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying "So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life." Acts 11:18
Am I saying to follow leaders who have ignored the truth? Hurt people? Abused people? Lied? Of course not. Acts shows great examples of calling out bad teachers and stopping lies. Couple people dropped dead because they lied and were making a mockery of the foundling faith. But Acts also shows the faithful were committed to figuring it out. They met, they prayed, they tried new tactics, they sometimes found new partners. But they didn't give up on the church. And that's what I'd say to you.
Been hurt? Quit church? Bitter and cynical?
Go Back. Find a church. Stick with it.
If you've left church because you are disgusted by problems then go back and help fix them. If you have concerns about racism within the church then go be part of the solution. If you don't see a place for people like you - then go create that space for others. Have hard talks with your leaders, research why you believe what you do and share the information If you've ever been loved by a pastor tell them thank you. Advocate. Don't quit.
If you don't see the point, be encouraged. Here is the beautiful truth of Acts. Jesus went back to heaven but God didn't leave us alone. He gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort. And he gave believers each other. The church collectively is the bride of Christ and he gave us a massive mission. Love each other. Be light. Make disciples. Comfort the hurting. Set free the captives.
Then Peter said: "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping and praising God. Acts 3:6,8
Its a mission we still are on together. I was talking to one of my pastors this morning. He said he always believe that when God is getting ready to do something powerful in someone's life or in a local church that the devil steps up the pressure. More pressure and heartache and attacks going on in your life? More pressure - more power. Hang in there. The Holy Spirit in on your side.
"If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this; you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is "The stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone. Salvation Is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. Acts 4:9-13
Oh how I want that in my obituary. Weird thought right? But someone write this down. I want it noted at the end that any courage from this unschooled and ordinary person is astonishing and only because I've been around Jesus. That's it.
"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace. Acts 20:24
The church leaders were persecuted, martyred, imprisoned and beat. Happens around the world still today. And here our pastors and teachers face pressures, abuse to their families, disappointment and great pain. You can make a difference. Thank one of them.
Our pastor this morning asked us to think about what our life would look like without Jesus. Mine would be a mess. The best things in my life are from him. The hard things I can do with him. I'm grateful for his gifts. The church hits the top of my list.
It's Pastor Appreciation Month. Need some ideas about how to love on the pastors in your life? This is a good resource. READ HERE. Don't underestimate the power of a thank you note. Or food. Food is good too.
Fire from heaven? Yikes! Find out why Acts is so exciting and why it matters to you. The team at The Bible Project's Read Scripture series on YouTube (say that 5 times fast) is a great overview.
There is a lot going on in the book of Acts. The infographic is helpful.
I loved Charles Martin before Hollywood did. I am the kind of fan who owns, reads, loans, and pre-orders all his books. The Mountain Between Us is gorgeous. The movie adaption is opening today. I want to go see it.
I bet the book is better.
Have you read any of Charles Martin's other books? (Yes...yes I have). Which is your favorite?
That's the Book: John
I always read through the That's the Book posts one final time Monday morning before I hit publish. Last week I read my words and paused.
It was terrible.
I had noticed a pattern in the verses of John. There are such a crazy variety of ways people responded to the life of Christ. Kinda interesting. So I read though and grabbed all the stories where it showed how people responded to Jesus. Some people were scared. Some angry. Some were grateful, confused. Some worshipped. Some followed.
I had blogged through these responses and showed how different elements in our society still respond the same ways. I even had some nice tie ins to NFL protests. Should have been okay. It wasn't.
It was boring, a tad smug and a lot depressing. This was not a post I could put up. I had worked super hard, put in lots of hours and it stunk. I missed a deadline.
I put away my computer and wondered how I was going to fix it. Hauled my body into the shower and prayed that God would help me see and help me write something decent.
He whispered into my soul.
You missed Jesus.
I'd read one of the most beautifully written books about Jesus and I'd focused on all the other people. I completely skipped the power and grace and love and hope. I'd focused on fear and anger and confusion. I'd looked at other people, at powerful people, at lost people, at broken people and even at some joyfully found people. But I'd skipped Jesus. No wonder it stunk.
The book of John is the most poetic of the four gospels. It's a powerful book. The language is deep and memorable. John also contains stories not mentioned in the other three gospels. More pictures of Jesus. More love.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1
The Word becomes flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father full of grace and truth. John 1:14
Somehow I had blown right by these life giving words and searched instead for people. Sigh. I may do this all the time. Pray for help and then look around to see the people who can fill my need while Jesus is waiting for me to accept his gift. Or I watch people to see if what I did was worthwhile. If I should continue. When who I should be looking at is Jesus.
I do it with the Bible too. And Jesus knows I do.
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. John 5:39-40
Sometimes I work and hustle and get my big long lists done because I think that's the important work before me. But Jesus really wants the focus to be him.
Jesus answered, The work of God is this; to believe in the one he has sent. John 6:29
He can meet my needs. Yours too.
Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35
He can light my path. Yours too.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. John 8:12
He doesn't want me to worry about the future. You either.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
Really. Just remain in him. The rest falls away.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
Trouble will come. Of course it will. But he'll be there.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33
Last week I was chatting with my eldest. I told her I was having a really hard time summing up John. My eleven year old had some advice 'Just tell them what you really think mom'.
I think I'm convicted.
I think I care too much about other people's opinions. I watch other people's responses too often. I think this week my post stunk because I was looking at people and my eyes were off Jesus. I'm just like the crowd who cared more about human praise than what God thinks. Sometimes I'm more like the people who were scared their lives would change so they choose not to follow. I think I read the book about my savior and my eyes were on other people. I think I need to change. I think I better watch Jesus, follow Jesus, love like Jesus.
And about what I write? What do I think? Please. Please. Don't read these words and think you heard from Jesus. I'm a mess. But you can hear his words for yourself. Read John. Just make sure you look for Jesus.
John 3:16 is probably the most well know verse in the entire Bible. I love Max Lucado's book all about this verse.
Need a song today? Here's a good one to settle in with while you read the book of John.
I love John. So much love. The guys at The Bible Project think so too. Check out their Read Scripture YouTube. I seriously have to go meet this team. They are in Portland, Oregon you know?!
This is the fourth gospel. Why do we need one more? I thought it was interesting to compare the four infographics from New Spring Church. Geek out! Look at charts. If you really want to get to know Jesus better spend some time in the book of John. New Spring has a devotional series newspring.cc/studies/john-21-day-guideHERE you can use.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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