Dad, Thank You For Believing in God

When I was little I wanted to be a scientist.  At 7 years old I pictured scientists heating things up and mixing things up and coming up with all kinds of neat stuff.  I was drawn to that probably because so many super heroes, it seems, got their powers from some freak lab accident.

Then I grew up and there are things that I never expected that would mean so much to me. I am studying Psalm 78:1-8 for this Sunday.  It is a very humbling passage and I knew that we would be studying these verses for quite a while now.  Our church has known that we would be coming to this passage for quite a while too.  The reason, or a reason, I wanted us to get these words in us is that I wanted us to hold on to words that would guide us as to how we as a church are going to work together, be fellow workers, for the joy of others in knowing God.  Psalm 78 is seventy-two verses long; it is one of the longer Psalms.  I believe that it was actually a psalm that was sung in worship services in the Old Testament.  King Hezekiah sends out a decree that praises are to be sung to the Lord God with the words of David and Asaph the seer (2 Chronicles 29:30).  It is Asaph that wrote Psalm 78.  And the thrust of this Psalm, the instruction, the big idea that Asaph wants all of his readers to get is that kids need to set their hope in God (Psalm 78:7).  Kids need to marvel at God and at His wonders and at His works and at His words.  Kids need to do that and they need to do that so that they grow up to be adults that do that.  Why? Psalm 78:9 gives some insight. Kids need to set their hope in God so that they grow up to be adults who hope in God so that they will be adults who will not “turn back on the day of battle.”  That is interesting.

The most interesting part of all this, the most intriguing aspect of kids setting their hope in God,  so that they are adults who hope in God ,so that they will be adults who will not turn back on the day of battle, the most interesting part of this is where this all begins.  Where does or when does a child set their hope in God?  Where does that happen or how does that happen or when does that happen?  Does the government do that for kids?  Does the government seek to see that kids set their hope in God?  The school?  No, it is the home.  The home is the setting and the means by which the adventure of kids setting their hope in God takes shape.  Fathers, teach your kids to marvel at God and at His works and at His wonders and at His words so that they hope in God.  That is Psalm 78:1-8.  Mothers are not  excluded from this adventure.  In fact, the writer of Proverbs 1 says, “son, hear what your dad has to say and do not forsake what your mother has taught you” (verse 8).  But note that this verse comes in the context gaining knowledge and that at the beginning of knowledge is knowing to fear God.

I find notes periodically from my daughters, my two treasures.  These notes are never hand delivered, but just strategically positioned so that I find them at the right time.  This particular note was on my dinner plate last Thursday evening.  “Dad, I want to thank you for believing in God.  Love, Camryn.”

Do you know what kids who set their hope in God do when they become adults who have set their hope in God?  They seek to see their children savor the wonder of who God is and sometimes they get notes on their dinner plate.

Still Teaching, Serving, and Trembling

Never forget the church with no name. Never forget the church with no name is found in Acts 2. Never forget that the church with no name was the very first local church in the history of the church – located in Jerusalem. Never forget that the church with no name began with over 3000 people. Never forget that among those 3000 people were men and women who, a month a half earlier, were screaming at the top of their lungs for Jesus Christ . . . to be crucified. Never forget that God looked at those same people and declared “you will belong to Me.” Never forget that the church’s identity, who we are, lies in the fact that we belong to Him because He has called us to belong to Him. I hope that when you look at a local church, when you look at what is a local church, that you never forget that the church is a group of sinful, sinful, sinful people who have been called to belong to God and these who are called to belong to God are together. These who belong to God are believers, distinguished by the fact that they are believers who are together. Do not ever forget it.

Never forget that being together is all about enjoying God and being so satisfied by Him in that enjoyment that we cannot help but enjoy each other and that this would be so contagious that we bring as many people as we can into that joy. Never forget that in accomplishing this purpose that we are to just love being together. And in loving being together we are to just love God’s Word – the teaching of God’s Word and the reading of God’s Word and the learning of God’s Word. Never forget that we are to love to share in life together and that we are to love to remember our Savior together and that we are to love to pray and that we are to love to worship and that we are to love seeing believers get baptized and that we are to love the world, we are to love people who need Jesus. Never forget those things.

I hope that elders never forget why they are elders. I hope that elders never forget to pastor. I hope that elders never forget God’s Word, to hold to it as if their eternal lives depend on it and as if your eternal life depends on it.

Looking for Elders

We are to be looking for elders. It is really interesting to look for elders in the New Testament. It is really interesting to look for those that are called to pastor local churches. We do not read of “elders” in the Christian sense until Acts 11:30. Notice the context in which we find, for the first time in the recording of church history, elders/pastors.

Turn to Acts 11:25. Barnabas and Paul are ministering in a town called Antioch and it is here that “for a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). It is just so neat that in the passage in which we first find elders in the church is also the first time that disciples – those that enjoy Jesus Christ – are called Christians. Notice what happens – it is foretold that a great famine is going to take place and it did take place at around A.D. 45-46. “Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius)” (Acts 11:27-28).

Where will this famine take place? All over the world, i.e. this is going to be a phenomenal famine and it will affect believers. So the church responds and prepares. “So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief [diakonia, another word for “deaconing”] to the brothers [and sisters] living in Judea and they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:29-30). Notice we have the mentioning of the church, the first mention of elders and the mention of a man named Saul, who is also known as Paul.

At this point in the book of Acts the church is no longer constrained to the city limits of Jerusalem which is where the church began and remained up through Acts 8. Notice that the relief in Acts 11:29 is going where – to the region called Judea. There are disciples, Christians, living in Judea and Judea is bigger than just Jerusalem, it contains Jerusalem, but it is bigger than Jerusalem. The church has spread; the church in Jerusalem first seen in Acts 2 has multiplied to churches in Judea and when we come to Acts 11 we see that the church has at least multiplied up through Antioch, a good 300 miles from where it all began. The point is that not until the church multiplied beyond Jerusalem do we read of, for the very first time, the existence of elders, of pastors.

There are elders in these multiplied churches, but why? Go to Acts 11:19. “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.”

We do not read about elders until there was persecution.

The church is no longer just in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea and up through Antioch because it had been scattered and it had been scattered because of persecution. As Luke is recording the birth of the church, the growth of the church, the activity of the church and the development of the church, we do not read about elders – and you must remember this and it is very important to remember – until there was persecution.

We do not read about elders until the church had been ravaged.

You must see this. See Acts 8:1, 3. Stephen, one of the first deacons selected to lead the first local church in the task of serving, described as being full of grace and power, was killed for giving the gospel to a world which needed Jesus more than it needed anything else. Now read Acts 8:1. “And Saul [the same guy we saw in Acts 11 meeting with and enjoying and teaching the church] approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Who stayed behind in Jerusalem? – The apostles, they are not going in the spread of the church. Now read Acts 8:3. “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”

We do not read about elders, there is no mention of elders, until this took place, until the church with no name was persecuted. Do not forget this: we do not read about elders until the church which belonged to God and was enjoying Him and was enjoying others and wanted nothing more but to bring others into that joy, there is no mentioning about elders, until the church had been ravaged.

You have to mark the moments that church leadership really developed and see why it is so important that we develop and hold on to and treasure a simple order of leadership among us. We do not read about deacons until the needs of the saints were neglected. We do not read about pastors until the church is ravaged.

Look again at Acts 8:3. “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” I believe the King James translation says that “Saul made havoc.” Havoc and ravage are really strong words to describe the amount of energy that was being expelled to destroy the church with no name. Who was doing the ravaging? Saul was doing the ravaging! Mark this down, the word “ravaging” was a word used to describe injury, particularly the mangling by a wild beast. Who was doing the mangling of the church? The same man who several years later would speak these all important words, see Acts 20:28-31a.

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church, which He obtained with His own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert.”

Is that not amazing! Here is Paul who at one time, before he was ever enjoying God’s salvation, hated God’s church so much that he was likened to a beast mangling its prey. And then several years later warns a group to “pay attention! Fierce wolves are licking their lips for the moment that they may devour you.”

Mark the difference between Acts 8:1-3 and Acts 20:28.  In Acts 8, the strategy is to physically destroy the church so that it will become extinct.  In Acts 20:28, the strategy is to spiritually destroy the church so that it will become extinct.  Note the illustration that Paul gives in Acts 20:29-30.  He is urging this audience to pay attention because “fierce wolves are coming,” wolves who will not spare the flock.  The men he speaks of in verse 30 are the wolves of verse 29.  These wolves are fierce because they “speak twisted things” (verse 30).  These wolves do not spare the flock by drawing away the disciples after them (verse 30).  In Acts 8, the strategy by the evil one was to physically destroy the church.  In Acts 20, the strategy is to no longer to physically destroy the church, but to spiritually destroy the church with words through men.  

According to Acts 20:28, who needs to pay attention? Who needs to pay attention to themselves and to the flock?

Look at Acts 20:17. “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.” Who needs to pay attention? Who needs to pay attention to themselves and to the flock? The elders of the church. I want you to make three notes.

 Notice the word elders. The word “elders” is the word presbuteros from which we get the word Presbyterian. And typically when you see the word “elders” in the New Testament it is this Greek word, Presbyterians. Then in verse twenty-eight these elders are said to be functioning in their church as “overseers.” This is the Greek word episkopos, which comes the word Episcopalian and this word is either translated “bishops” or “overseers.” And then also in verse twenty-eight is the word “feed.” This is the Greek word poimino, the word for “pastor.” So these men that Paul is addressing are elders who are also bishops and pastors. In other words and elder both bishops/oversees and pastors.

 These elders are from the church at Ephesus. Interesting. And the greatest thing that Paul thinks to tell these Ephesian pastors, these elders as they bishop and pastor is “pay attention!” Where are these pastors from? Where is their church? Ephesus.

 Acts 20:28 is the first recorded instruction to elders in the book of Acts. And what is the instruction? “Pay attention!”

We read of the first mention of elders functioning in the church back in Acts 11:30. “And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.” Just from this verse alone there is not much to say as to how elders are to function. In the use of the word historically, I can tell you that elders acted as managers or acted in positions of authority. This may give us a little insight into the role of elders in the functioning of the church.

Acts 14:23 may help us a little bit more. “And when they had appointed elders in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Every New Testament church had elders and apparently every New Testament church had more than elder, but still there is not much here that tells me how they are to function. Note this: it was Paul who was making sure that every church that he came in contact with had elders. Interesting, that the one who at one time was ravaging the church was then making sure that every church had elders.

The first time that any explicit instruction is given as to the how elders are to elder, how pastors are to pastor is not found until we get to Acts 20:28. And what is that instruction? “Pay attention!” And Paul says a lot to these elders. Paul had spent three years with this church and he actually says goodbye to them twice. In Acts 20:1, Paul gathers the disciples of Ephesus, encourages them and says goodbye. Then he spends the next three plus months sailing around the general area of Ephesus, purposely trying to not return there. But in those three plus months he is constantly thinking about this church. And when his ship docks in Miletus he calls for the Ephesian pastors to come to him as soon as possible and he has one thing to say to them. In 20:19 he begins to talk to these pastors, he recalls how he served the Lord among them. He served with humility, but he never instructs these elders to pastor with humility. He served with tears, but he never tells these elders to pastor with tears. He served with trials, but he never tells these elders to pastor with trials. He never shrunk from declaring and teaching the whole counsel of God, but he never tells these elders to be sure to teaching the whole will of God. Why? Because they are going to do all those things. These men spent three years with Paul. Or Paul spent three years with these men. Who was at the receiving end of the humility and the tears and the trials and the teaching? These elders were the product of all that time that Paul invested in this Ephesian church. He was preparing them to pastor and does it not seem logical that you end up imitating the one who trained you and invested in you.

But after saying goodbye to them months prior, Paul is burdened to talk with them one more time. Now where are these men from? Ephesus.

Pastor With Just One Aim

The main imperative, the only instruction, Paul has for these men is Acts 20:28. And the instruction is “Pay Attention!” The elders of this Ephesian are to never forget how to pastor. The elders of every local church better never forget how to pastor. The Ephesian elders must pastor with just one aim. The elders of every local church must pastor with just one aim. “Pay attention!”

Are you ready for this? The Greek word for “pay attention” was a boating word. It meant “bring the ship to shore.” So, after three years with these men and after three plus months away from these men, Paul had to get back to them and had to instruct them to do just one thing and I do not think it was the first time that they heard these words. I do not think that it was the first time that they were told to “pay attention! Bring the ship to shore!”

 Bring the ship to shore when it comes to you (elders).

Who is listed first when Paul says “pay careful attention?” It is a paying careful attention to you and he is talking to elders. In your pastoring, elders, bring the ship to shore. I struggled all week with this. How does a pastor in his pastoring pay careful attention to himself? John MacArthur called this ‘getting right with God.’ The elder in his pastoring must be about getting himself right with God all the time. I asked a dear friend of mine about this and he pastors a great church in Lancaster, Ohio. I asked him about how a pastor really I think pastors himself, pays close attention to himself. In thinking through it he asked some questions that I thought were super applicable. Are we personally submitting ourselves to accountability partners? Am I seeing my pastoring as a ministry not a job? Am I serving according to my giftedness or the expectations of others? Do I hold myself to the same standards that come through my teaching? Am I holding myself to the teaching? There is where I think we start to really understand how our pastors bring their own ship to shore. Perhaps, this is so important so that the pastor himself does not end up becoming the fierce wolf of Acts 20:29-30.

Where were these Ephesian elders from? Ephesus. Interesting to know that about 7 years after this scene in Acts 20, Paul writes a letter to the pastor of Ephesus. The name of the letter is 1 Timothy. Look at what Paul says to Timothy as he pastors the church in Ephesus. “Until I come devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” Devote yourself to teaching. And then in verse sixteen, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” I think that both of my pastor friends are right. The pastor brings his own ship to shore by:

 Getting right with God (repenting all the time) and
 Getting the word in himself.

The psalmist in Psalm 51:6,12-14 put it this way: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Your righteousness.”

 Bring the ship to shore when it comes to you.

In your pastoring, elders, bring the church to the shore. Where were these Ephesian elders from? Ephesus. Paul wrote another letter to this Ephesian church. The letter is called the letter to the Ephesians. And in that letter Paul wrote about pastoring. And you see how essential that the pastor get his own ship to shore when it comes to getting your ship to shore. Through getting right with God and through getting the word in himself the pastor needs to bring your ship to shore by getting the word in you. See Ephesians 4:11-12. “And He [Jesus Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” The elder pastors and the he pastors through feeding and that feeding is called teaching. And look at the what this teaching accomplishes, it: equips the saints. I want you to see how this word equip is used in Scripture.

Mark 1:19. “And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.”

Galatians 6:1. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

1 Thessalonians 3:10. “As we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?”

1 Peter 5:10. “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

This is what the word “equip” means. It has the idea of making the nets ready for another day of fishing; it has the idea of strengthening or sustaining a wore down people; it has the idea of a sailor outfitting his boat; and it has the idea of repairing and refitting a damaged vessel.

How does the elder pastor in such a way to get your ship to shore? By teaching, a teaching that repairs and refits and mends sometimes broken people, sometimes discouraged people and sometimes disheartened people for another day of fishing.

What is the shore? Did you wonder that? What shore is the ship getting to? I think Ephesians 4:13 has the shore in view. “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” I think the shore is about enjoying the word of God and enjoying the God of the word.

Bring the ship to shore.

Are You Glad You Are There?

I am about 7000 miles away from home, surrounded by mountains, cold and the constant smell of burning coal.  I was just asked if I was glad I was here in Mongolia.  I was messaging my Mom through facebook and that was her burning question. “Are you glad you are there?”

The question was more thought provoking than one would imagine and it made me think about  fear.  I was terrified to come to Mongolia and not because of fear of flight or a fear of being away from home, but a fear to fail.

I am glad that I am came to Mongolia with fear and trembling to know and experience a God who is never debilitated by a man’s fear and instead takes us in our weaknesses to show His mighty strength.

I am overwhelmed with the display of God’s immeasurable greatness of His power toward those who believe Him even in their fear.  So, yes Mom I am glad I am here.

Why Are We Ever Surprised By God?

“Some of the best things that ever happened to me are those things that I never planned for or pursued.”  My Dad has said this often and it is one of those things that has just stuck with me.  I think about plans and it is good to have plans and it is good to pursue those plans, but the things that I have not pursued really have been some of the best things that have ever happened to me.  This could not be more true than in this past year.

Tomorrow afternoon I leave for Mongolia.  It is a teaching trip.  I never ever thought that I would find myself in Mongolia and I never ever thought I would be endeavoring on a teaching trip to anywhere.  But here I am teaching and going to the other side of the planet to talk about and admire the gift of love that God the Father has given to His Son Jesus the Christ.  That gift of love is the church; all those whom God has called to belong to Himself.  That is incredible.

Get this: I will be teaching alongside a man who has mentored me for 32 years and has made more of an impact on me than I would have thought.  This has been more and more evident in the last 8 weeks.  And so God is sending my mentor (my Dad) and I together to Mongolia on a teaching trip.  A father and a son traveling 7000 miles to be co-laborers with our Father to strengthen men and women in their ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is incredible.

God has done more than I could ever ask or imagine in this last year.  To be honest, it all has been a surprise.  Before sending me to Mongolia, God sent my wife, children and me to North Olmsted, Ohio. I never ever thought we would be in North Olmsted, Ohio to be a part of the gift of love that God has given to His Son Jesus the Christ – Calvary Community Church,  those whom God has called to belong to Himself.  We give thanks to God for them.

So, I wonder, “why are we (why am I) ever surprised by God?”  I think it is because He loves to surprise us.  I think God is blessed, is happy, when He surprises us and we say, “He has done more than I could ever ask or imagine.”  

Teaching, Serving, and Trembling

I began what I thought would be a one sermon focusing upon leadership needed and demanded in the local church for the local church.  I shared yesterday that this necessary aspect (church leadership) of believers who are together would take more than one sermon.  Perhaps I thought it could be done in one sermon because I want to see things get done.  This subject needs more attention than that, it needs more than an attitude of “get it done” or should I say, “git-r-done.”

God has intended there to be two unique positions of leadership for the local church: elders  (pastors) and deacons.  I chose in yesterday’s sermon to only introduce the leadership of serving (deaconing).  The other position of leadership is of course teaching (pastoring).  In studying these two unique positions I found that they both instill the same the emotion – trembling, fear.  The Apostle Paul says that those who desire to be a pastor (elder) desire a noble task and the Apostle Peter says that it should be done “eagerly” (1 Timothy 3:1 and 1 Peter 5:2).  And would you not worry about the pastor who pastors without energy, without desire, without feeling and believing that what he is doing is the greatest doing in all the world?! It is, pastoring is the greatest task!  Serving, leading the local church in serving (being a deacon) is just as exciting.  A deacon is following or imitating the greatest deacon, Jesus the Christ (Matthew 20:28).  However, each position of leadership causes some tremendous, godly trembling.  For we pastor and deacon those who have been “obtained with His own blood,” the blood of Jesus Christ who is God (Acts 20:28).  We pastor and deacon those who are God’s treasured possession.  This is so serious.

Think on these last few thoughts.  The very first local church in the history of the church is found in Acts 2:41-47.  This first local church had no name.  No one worked tirelessly to come up with some creative name for this dynamic local church.  Their identity was not in their name.  Their identity was in who they were – they were believers who are together called by God to be believers who are together.  This is true of every genuine church.  Every genuine church is believers who are together called by God to be believers who are together and it is exciting.  It is exciting because we are believers who are together building the church together with Jesus Christ and there is nothing greater to be doing with your life, but to be doing what God is doing and joining Him there.  This church with no name knew their purpose.  They were believers who were together for the purpose of enjoying God, enjoying each other and bringing others in to that joy.  This is the purpose of every local church on the planet.

Notice that the church with no name in Acts 2:41-47 set out to immediately accomplish that purpose.  They immediately set out to enjoy God, to enjoy each other and bring others into that joy. The way they did it, I believe, set a standard; a standard which said this is what a local church does to accomplish that purpose. And you see this standard throughout the letters written to churches in the New Testament.

Here is how they did it: I saw eight marks which distinguish a local church as a true church in their pursuit of this great purpose of enjoying God, enjoying each other and bringing others into that joy. 1). We see that the church was intentional about gathering together. They got together on purpose for purpose (Acts 2:44, 46). Now look at Acts 2:42 and mark the word “devoted.” This word describes how intentional the church was and is about gathering together. “Devoted” means constant diligence or effort that never lets up. 2). We see that the church was devoted to teaching and to learning. 3). We see that the church was devoted to remembering Jesus Christ (breaking of bread). 4). We see that the church was devoted to sharing their lives together (fellowship). 5). We see that the church was devoted to praying (together, for one another and just plain talking to God).  6). We see that the church celebrated baptism of believers (Acts 2:41 and therefore implied in verse 47).  7). We see that the church had a relationship to the outside world (Acts 2:47).  8). We see that the church was full of gratitude which was expressed in their response to God and in their reception to God’s provision (Acts 2:47, 46).  This first church on its first day had over 3000 members.

Do you know what you do not see in those seven verses? You do not see any mention of elders (pastors) or deacons. No mention of either one whatsoever. This might be a minute observation, but it caught my attention. And not only is there no mention of elders or deacons here, the church is functioning and one might say it is functioning pretty well. This church is on fire! In fact the first local church is numbered at over three-thousand members and it is functioning just fine. As you read on in Acts you see that things continued to go really well without any elders or deacons.

So, why do we need, absolutely need, elders and deacons?

The Church With No Name (Continued)

Who were the first people that the Lord called to come and enjoy Him? Who were the first people that God called and added to His gathered group of people? Read Acts 2:36-41.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

It is quite incredible to think about those who demanded that Jesus Christ be crucified were among the first that God called to Himself in establishing His church. But as Luke writes the book of Acts and especially as he writes Acts 2, how does he know what a church is? How is he able to spot that what God was doing was establishing for Himself, His own group of people? How did Luke recognize that these people in Acts 2 had been called by God to Himself? The answer to that question answers the question as to how Luke was able to pinpoint other local churches throughout the book of Acts. The same is true for the other writers of the New Testament. How were writers like Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude able to recognize a local church, a local group of “believers who are together”? The answer: The group was visibly a group that belonged to God. The group was enjoying God. The group was learning about Him (devoted to the apostles teaching, Acts 2:42). Notice that the church gathered together with glad hearts “praising God” (Acts 2:47a). The group was enjoying one another. The church, believers who are together, enjoy one another. The word for fellowship in Acts 2:42 indicates the relationship that takes place among believers. It is the Greek word koinonia and indicates that believers share in together this enjoyment of God.  How?  Remembering the risen Christ together.  Praying together.  Caring for each other together.  The group was bringing others into this joy. The group was out there with people (Acts 2:47)!  Notice what God does through people who enjoy Him and enjoy one another.  He brings others into this joy – “. . .and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

There is a great danger facing every local church.  It is the danger of not knowing why we have come together, of not remembering who we are.  There is the danger of not remembering that we are believers who are together building something with Jesus Christ.  We are believers who are together building something with Jesus Christ for the purpose of enjoying Him, enjoying others who enjoy Him and bringing others into that joy.  The way to guard against forgetting who we are is by living with the attitude of gratitude.  May each day begin and end and be filled with thanks to God for who He is and what He has done.  Gratitude for salvation is a gratitude that treasures the grace God has shown in taking life with all of its mistakes, all of its regrets, all of its shortcomings, and opening eyes to the grand purpose for which you and I were created.  Jesus Christ gave His life so that my eyes would be open to this purpose.  Be thankful.  Jesus Christ gave His life so that my eyes would see and know about this glorious purpose, this inheritance, that is in me.  Be thankful.  Jesus Christ gave His life so that my eyes would see and know the immeasurable greatness of the power of God that is toward me who believes!  Be thankful.  (Ephesians 1:18-19; 5:25).

The Church With No Name

There is a fifteen year old girl in Iceland who legally has no name.  On every official document when it comes to her name she is simply called “girl.”  In renewing her passport or any dealing with the bank she legally presents herself as “girl.”  It is obvious that she is a girl, what is not so obvious is what her name is.  And legally, in the eyes of the government, she is known as “girl.”  Now she really does have a name, it is just not recognized as her name by the government of Iceland.  Her given name, her birth name, is Blaer; pronounced “Blair.”   It seems like a great name!  Blaer means “light breeze.”  That is a lot better than having your name mean “liar” or “deceiver” which is what the name James means.  The government of Iceland refuses to recognize this young lady as Blaer.  The reason being is that in Iceland, and apparently this is true in Germany and Denmark, the government must approve your name.  So when parents name their child, in order for that name to be officially that child’s name, the government must approve it.  Parents are directed to pick their child’s name from the official Personal Names Register.  This register includes 1,712 male names and 1,853 female names.  These are official names because they fit pronunciation and grammar rules.  This fifteen year old girl cannot be named Blaer because grammatically the name requires a masculine article meaning that this is a boy’s name.  It gets stranger.  The name Elvis is a permissible name, but names like Cara, Cesil or Christa are not permitted names because those names begin with the letter “c” which is not part of Iceland’s 32 letter alphabet.

I think what is so neat about that story is that “girl” knows exactly who she is, she is Blaer.  Even though the government refuses to recognize her name and instead simply call her “girl” (which I suppose she should be grateful that the government does not go ahead and pick out a name for her), she knows who she is and her family and friends know who she is, they know her.

It made me think about the church with no name. The very first local church in Scripture is found in Jerusalem in Acts 2, specifically Acts 2:41-47.

“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

The church in Acts 2:41-47 had no name but they knew who they were.  Who were they? I believe the simplest yet sobering definition of “church” is Acts 2:44.  The church is believers who are together.  I said it is simple and I believe anything else that is said about the church has this supporting it.  There is something very exciting about that simple, sobering definition. The excitement is this:  the church is believers who are together building something.  The church is believers who are together building something with Jesus Christ and, get this, it is called the church.  “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18).  Jesus said those words.  I love the church and I love my local church.  I am a member of  Calvary Community Church and we are building something at Calvary in our time and we are doing it with Jesus Christ and it is because of Jesus Christ.  And what we are building has a three-fold purpose of enjoying God, enjoying one another and bringing others into that joy!  And we are doing it together.  Do not ever lose that for this is who we are! This is what the church is!  And I am stressing this importance because there is a great crisis at hand.  It is a crisis that I pray that we never face and that no local church will ever have to face.  It is the crisis of not knowing who we are.  The church in Acts 2:41-47 had no name, but they knew who they were.  The crisis is real and the crisis affecting churches is the church not knowing who it is.

So, the church, the Christian church, is called a church because that is what it is; it is just a gathered group of people. The difference is, the distinction is, as to the purpose of the gathering. Are you ready for this? Look at Acts 2:39. “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” Acts 2:39 says that the Lord is calling people from all over the place to Himself. The Lord is gathering people for Himself, He is grouping a people for Himself.  So, what are these people being added to in Acts 2:41-47? These people are being added to the group that God calls to Himself.  That is the church – a group of people that belong to God. These people are being added to the group that enjoys God, they are being gathered to the church that enjoys God.

Hold on to something. Who were the first people that the Lord called to come and enjoy Him? Who were the first people that God called and added to His gathered group of people?  Read Acts 2:36-41.

Words for the New Year

2012 is about to come to a close.  That sounds a lot better than saying that 2012 is coming to an end.  Perhaps that is all that the Mayans foresaw; 2012 was simply coming to a close, not an end.

I look at the year ahead as a great journey that God has already planned out for me and for you.  The journey is the purpose of life.  The journey is the reason that there is this gathered group of people called the church.  The journey is enjoying God, enjoying one another (joining with those who enjoy God), and bringing others into this joy.  This the reason mankind was created.  This is the reason that Jesus Christ said that He would build His church (Matthew 16:18).  We are placed here on this planet in this vast universe to enjoy God.  He made us and He made us to know Him.  We are His and the great need is to have eyes opened to reality and that reality is that God knows your name and He wants you to know His.  He has made you.  All those who realize this reality cannot help but be overcome with joy and find themselves worshiping God (Psalm 100).

So life’s grand purpose is to enjoy God, worship God, serve God.  Those are just three ways of saying the same thing.  And we are not isolated in this grand purpose.  There are others who are enjoying God and the point is that we are to join with them in this enjoyment by enjoying one another.  Enjoy one another by enjoying God together.  We want others to share in this same joy, to have this joy that is unmatched – a joy found in God alone (1 John 1:3-4).

So that is the grand purpose of our time on this planet.  Enjoy God.  Enjoy others who enjoy God and bring others into this joy.  Ten thoughts come to mind in fulfilling this grand purpose.  These are things to see and do for 2013 in view of this purpose.

1. Actively embrace and proclaim that God is here and He is in charge.

2. Fulfill the simple order of leadership that God has gifted to the church for the function of His church.

3. Grow – may there be gospel growth and relational growth (knowing God better and knowing one another better).

4. Get with a small group made up of those who enjoy God.

5. Know that you have value to Jesus Christ and a place and value in His church.

6. Be a part of the multi-generational ministry of the church; each generation transmitting truth to the generation after it.

7. Develop a special time of knowing God and His Word better together with those who are enjoying God.

8. Vacation Bible School

9. Be a reader and thinker.  Reading begins and ends with a thoughtful, daily reading of God’s Word.  Reading good books complements this.

10. Expand your missions outreach to the neighborhood and world around you.

Very First Words

I am blogging now.  It is actually rather exciting.  As of writing these words I have just one person following this blog – me.  I feel like I can say anything.

Life is such a precious gift.  I know that those words are not unique or dare I say profound.  Perhaps it is because the wonder of life has gotten lost in our pursuits in life.  The letter by James the half-brother of Jesus Christ writes what I think is probably the most staggering assessment about life.  Life is but a mist (James 4:14).  Should we illustrate this truth?  The next time you spray Windex on your bathroom mirror, count how long the mist from that bottle lasts before you go to wipe the mirror clean.  Or how about this, how often have you asked, “where did today go?” The brevity of life intensifies the value of life.

I will never have yesterday  back.  I love time travel discussion and time travel movies, but there is no flux capacitor to make time travel possible.  I cannot go back to yesterday and see the moment my parents fell in love.  I cannot reclaim yesterday.   However, there is God and He has reclaimed me.  He has opened my eyes and has given me perspective.  When I remember my past I now see His hand.  When I look at the days ahead of me I do so with a courage found in the promised presence of God.  In other words, I face today, tomorrow, and the regrets of my past knowing God has never left me.  He has never disappointed me.  He has never abandoned me.  Will there be trouble?  Has there been trouble?  Have I been depressed?  Yes. Yes. And yes.  But God has always been God.  And He has always been with me.

So, I must make the most of my life.  I must make the most of the life ahead of me.  And since God is always with me, I am always in His presence and He is God, I must know Him.  I must enjoy Him.  And the great thing is that He wants me to know Him.  He wants me to enjoy Him.  “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

Since I live in His presence and you live in His presence then the goal of life for both of us is the same.  This goal is three-fold.  We must enjoy God; we must enjoy each other; and we must bring others into this joy!