“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?
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.
The philosopher Alasdair McIntyre once said that for something to make sense it needs to be put into the context of a story. So many of our disagreements today stem from arguments over what the real story is. The Bible offers us a story that can be counted on, one that makes sense of the world we live in. This story can be trusted because it comes from God.
Prior to the day of Pentecost, Jesus’ disciples committed themselves to prayer in an upper room (Acts 1:12-14). Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift God the Father had promised (Acts 1:4). Never underestimate the power of prayer. God has many times used the prayers of his people to accomplish great things.
Hannah was one of the sweetest young ladies you ever could meet. She was bright and smart, graduating the top of her class in college. Upon graduating, she took a job at a non-profit that specialized in helping impoverished families. With her grades and newly minted credentials, she could have chosen a more lucrative career. Money, however, did not motivate Hannah. Her heart was warm and compassionate. She wanted to help those less fortunate than herself.
Hope helps move us forward. The things we hope for motivate us to get out of bed in the morning. We hope that today will be better than yesterday. Hope enables us to overcome adversity and envision a better future.