Jesus said: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:23)
The Greeks of old thought the eye was like a lamp. It illumined the world around a person much like the light of a flashlight in the dark. Jesus altered this well-known metaphor by saying it is not so much about what our eyes illuminate but what they take in. Our eyes do not remain neutral to the external stimuli they see. If our eyes take in darkness, that darkness contaminates the body and makes it dark. However, if our eyes take in light, light fills our body.
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the sound of your song! I will not listen to the music of your harps.” (Amos 5:21-23) These are odd words to have come from the Lord Almighty! Are not these the very things he commanded? Continue reading →
A baby’s first steps mark a milestone. From sitting up to crawling to pulling up to holding on to finally walking, those steps open up a world of possibility. Can you imagine someone waiting forty plus years to take those first steps?
We come to the last distinguishing mark of the infant Christian church in this series. This series does not give an exhaustive list of distinguishing marks, only those listed in the first major snapshot of the infant Christian church given to us in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:42-47).
This continues a series of articles on the distinguishing marks of the infant Christian church. The infant Christian church’s devotion to prayer comprises its fifth distinguishing mark (Acts 2:42).
In the original Greek, the word often translated “prayer” is pluralized and preceded by the Greek article. Literally, we would render the Greek, “the prayers” and not simply “prayer.” The members of the infant church not only devoted themselves to the act of prayer, but they devoted themselves to regular routine times of prayer. They did not pray only at times they felt moved to pray but established regular times to gather together and pray. A healthy church prays regularly and routinely. Prayers do not simply punctuate the end of a song or fill a liturgical role in the service, but flow from the heart of those who make these times of regular prayer foundational to their lives.
Luke showed us the believers praying before. Before the day of Pentecost, they were in a room praying regularly, likely for the power from on high Jesus promised (Acts 1:14) . Luke will show us again, time after time, the early church praying (e.g. Acts 3:1). Prayer gives the church her lifeblood.
The scholar Dr A. T. Pierson once said, “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.” Charles Spurgeon was said to have a group regularly meeting in the steam cellar of the church for the sole purpose of praying for the ministry of the church. It was said of John Knox that one day when he went into the room he often withdrew to, his wife followed him. When she entered, she heard him pleading to God in broken sentences, “Lord, wilt thou grant me Scotland.”
The prayer life of a congregation serves as one of the spiritual barometers that measures a congregation’s health. Is your congregational prayer life healthy? Is your individual prayer life for your congregation’s ministry healthy? If you cannot answer in the affirmative, drop what you are reading and fall on your knees. Your Lord calls you; will you listen?
For those looking to pray for our county, I invite you to join a group of us Mondays by the flagpole near the courthouse in Wellsboro at 4pm (or a little thereafter). Many prayers go from that place weekly for the welfare of our community. It matters little your denomination, only your willingness to join fellow brothers and sisters in beseeching Christ for times of refreshing to come to the people in our community.
The fourth distinguishing mark of the infant Christian church we look at in this series rests on the phrase “the breaking of the bread (Acts 2:46).” Some biblical scholars take this as a reference to the Lord’s Supper, while others take it as an idiomatic phrase referring to sharing a meal together.
In this third part of this series on the distinguishing marks of the early Christian church, we look at something unusual that took place. “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need (Acts 2:45).” The early Christian church demonstrated a radical generosity the world had never seen before.
The question of what to do with the poor and needy has plagued societies throughout time. God wrote into his law for the nation of ancient Israel a policy for the poor among them (Deuteronomy 15:4-7). If they would have followed it, there would have been no poor person among them. Yet, even Israel chose to ignore God’s law in regard to the poor. God spoke against that nation through the prophet Amos saying, “They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground (Amos 2:7).”
No human society has ever managed to eliminate poverty from their land. Yet, the early Christian church did what no one else could. Later in the Book of Acts, Luke says, “there were no needy persons among them (Acts 4:34).” How did they do this? They did not do it through policy, taxation, or mandatory measures. Rather, something more radical transformed the minds and hearts of this community of believers that now numbered thousands.
Usually when people give to the poor, they do so out of guilt. They see an advertisement to raise money for starving children in a foreign country. They see the swollen bellies of these children and then look at all they have. They feel guilt. They give. They feel better about themselves, and the guilt goes away, at least for the moment.
The early Christian church was giving for a different reason. Their hearts had been touched by grace. They came to see clearly the depth of their sin. They knew they were helpless to change themselves. They were convicted of the truth that God sent his Son Jesus Christ to lay down his life to cover their sins with his blood. They were not giving out of guilt; they were giving out of gratitude for what they knew God did for them.
Generosity marks not only the early Christian church, but also individual Christians as well. How can a Christian, who knows how widely God has opened his hand to them, close their hand to the poor among them? Salvation comes by grace alone, but the conviction of this grace expresses itself in the life of the Christian through acts of radical generosity.
The word “religion” often times has a negative connotation. We think of empty rituals, moralism, legalism, etc. The word seems too wooden, too void of feeling. But, when James says, “Religion that God our Father accepts,” he means much more. Continue reading →
Who does not like a good photograph? Photographs capture the special times in life, the birthdays, weddings, and moments that crystalize what is important in life. Though cameras were yet to be invented at the birth of the infant Christian Church, Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote down words that give us photographs of that church. The widest angle shot appears in Acts 2:42-47, after Peter’s Pentecost sermon. There we see what the church was doing in those early years. Those happenings represent what the one, true church has always been.