Sunday, September 30, 2007
From there he traveled another twenty miles to the coast city of Joppa. He traveled there because some of the followers of the Way from that city heard that he was in Lydda and came for him. A lady named Tabitha (Dorcas), who, Luke explains, was "full of good works and charity", had become ill and had just died. They thought that perhaps Peter might be able to do something. Peter came to Joppa, went upstairs to where Tabitha was, and commanded her lifeless body to arise. Immediately she was filled with life, and he presented her to the community. Once again Luke describes how this affected the city: "And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord" (9:42).
As he was heading to Damascus, he had an encounter with Jesus, the One he was really persecuting. Jesus knocked Saul off his horse, blinded him, and told him to go into the city and he would then be told what to do. Jesus then spoke to Ananias, one of the followers of the Way. When Jesus told him His plan, Ananias questioned Him. Saul was very dangerous. Why would Jesus want him to welcome this murder in. Jesus' response was that Saul was His chosen instrument who would carry His name to the Gentiles.
Ananias found Saul exactly where Jesus had said he would be. He laid hands on him and prayed, causing him to regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. He was then baptized.
Saul stayed there for a few days, proclaiming in the synagogue that Jesus was the Christ. People were amazed because they knew who Saul was. After a few days, though, the Jews tried to kill him, but he escaped. Some time later he returned to Jerusalem. When he got there he went to see the disciples, but they were afraid. Apparently Jesus had not let them in on this turn of events. Barnabas, however, believed Saul's story and convinced the others to allow him in. Pretty soon the Jews in Jerusalem tried to kill Saul, so he was sent to Tarsus, where he was from.
The Jewish leaders had to be acting out of fear by this point. They had no idea what to do. All they knew now was that their prized pupil was now a member of this heretical sect.
Luke ends this section by saying, "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied" (9:31). This is a beautiful statement. Ever since Stephen was murdered, there was anything but peace. There was great fear, even among the leaders of the Way. But now Jesus had intervened and transformed the heart of the man at the center of that fear. Saul was now a follower of Jesus. Jesus had brought them peace. They were in awe of Jesus, and this led to a time of being built (maturity) up but also of reproduction. Fear never leads to maturity or reproduction, but peace and awe do.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
A sorcerer named Simon watched Philip and was jealous. For many years he was the one with great powers, and everyone gave him attention. Even so, he was curious about the two-fold message that Philip was preaching: (1) good news about the kingdom of God and (2) the name of Jesus Christ. Many believed and were baptized, among them Simon the Sorcerer.
Word quickly spread back to Jerusalem, and Peter and John were sent to see it for themselves: the Samaritans had believed! They also came to lay hands on these new believers and pray that they might receive the Holy Spirit. When Simon observed this, he quietly went to Peter and John and offered them money if he too could do this. Peter rebuked him and warned him to repent. Simon obeyed.
Some time after this an angel appeared to Philip and told him to go back towards Jerusalem and down to Gaza, which was a coastal city. He didn't tell him why, and Philip didn't ask. He just obeyed. On his way he ran into an Ethiopian eunich who worked for Queen Candace. He was on his way back from Jerusalem, where he had journeyed to worship. Philip saw that he had the Scriptures opened to Isaiah. Luke points out that the Spirit told Philip to go closer to the Ethiopian's chariot. Again, Philip obeyed.
Philip then asked a simple question: "Do you understand what you are reading?" The Ethiopian was obviously hungry to know truth, but indeed did not understand what he was reading. In fact, he said that he would never understand it unless he had someone to help him understand. The chariot stopped, Philip got in, and he looked to see what the Ethiopian was reading. It was from Isaiah 53. Luke says that Philip began with this Scripture and told the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus.
Right about this time they drove by a small body of water. The Ethiopian asked Philip if he could be baptized. Right after he came out of the water, he looked around and Philip was gone. He had vanished. Philip found himself in Azotus, about twenty miles north of Gaza. Understandably a little excited, Philip headed back to Caesarea (another 40-60 miles north), preaching the gospel to all he came in contact with.
Monday, September 24, 2007
After giving this eloquent history, Stephen rebukes the crowd by saying, "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit." He accuses them of murdering the prophets who announced the coming of Jesus, and then they murdering Jesus, the Son of God.
At this the crowd has had enough. They rush Stephen, carry him out of the city, and stone him to death.
No doubt there were other Jesus-followers watching. Imagine the thoughts going through their head at this point. The fun and games are over. This is really serious! Our friend has just been killed. Maybe they even questioned how God could allow something like this to happen.
Luke mentions something else that at the time seems pretty incidental - that those stoning Stephen laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. This is incidental because we've never heard of Saul before. We're about to hear a lot about him, though. Saul was a devout Jew. He had been raised by the right parents, educated in the right schools, and apprenticed under the right teachers (for more on Saul's background, see Philippians 3:4-6, Acts 22:3, & Galatians 1:13-14). Now he was about to be unleashed on the Church.
After Stephen's speech, most of the crowd believed that he was indeed a heretic who had to be stopped. This was all that the religious leaders needed. They commissioned Saul to go throughout Jerusalem and arrest men and women from the Church. After five years of relative peace, the Church was now about to go "underground." Luke mentions that all but the apostles fled Jerusalem. We will soon discover, though, that this too was a part of God's plan.
Friday, September 21, 2007
I find it interesting that the Twelve do not select seven men. Instead, they call on the community to select seven men. They did give them qualifications, though:
- A good reputation
Side note: This was a huge turn of events. The priests were the primary persecutors of the early church at this time. Another side note: I love the phrase "became obedient to the faith."
One of the seven men chosen was Stephen. Luke describes him as a man who was "full of grace and power." He had been performing signs and wonders, and therefore had attracted a large crowd. It also attracted opposition. One day that opposition accused Stephen of blaspheming God. Stephen was seized and brought before the council.
Don't start with a big program. Don't suddenly think you can add to your church budget and begin. Start personally and start in your home. I dare you. I dare you in the name of Jesus Christ. Do what I am going to suggest. Begin by opening your home for community…
L'Abri is costly... In about the first three years of L'Abri all our wedding presents were wiped out. Our sheets were torn. Holes were burned in our rugs. Indeed once a whole curtain almost burned up from somebody smoking in our living room...How many times has this happened to you? You see, you don't need a big program. You don't have to convince your session or board. All you have to do is open your home and begin. And there is no place in God's world where there are no people who will come and share a home as long as it is a real home.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Sure enough, the apostles were outside continuing to do what they had been arrested for. The high priest was furious. He accused them of "intend(ing) to bring this man's blood upon us" (5:28). This was the heart of his concern. He feared for his life. Peter took the opportunity to once again rebuke them.
Now the high priest wanted to kill Peter and the other apostles, but a Pharisee named Gamaliel stepped in. He reminded the council of others who had led rebellions, but who had failed. His suggestion: "keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God" (5:38-39). They beat the apostles, warned them to stop preaching about Jesus, and sent them home. The apostles rejoiced that they "were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name" (5:41).
There was a married couple in the church named Ananias and Sapphira. Just as many others were doing, they sold a piece of property and gave the proceeds to the community. What they didn't tell Peter and the others was that they had secretly held back some of the money for themselves. When Ananias came to Peter, God revealed to Peter what Ananias had done. He asked, "Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit." This money was theirs. They did not have to give any of it. Yet they claimed to be giving all of it.
After Peter finished speaking, Ananias fell to the ground dead. Three hours later Sapphira came in. Peter asked her if they gave all of the proceeds. She lied and, like her husband, fell to the ground dead.
I am guilty of far greater sins than this. They no doubt had done far worse than this over the course of their lives. Why was the judgment this harsh? As John Calvin said, "they hoped to give a little to God but get credit for a lot." It's important to remember that God looks at the heart, not just the actions. Perhaps Ananias and Sapphira (A & S) were present when Barnabas gave the proceeds from the sale of a property. No doubt there was a great deal of talk about Barnabas. Perhaps A & S wanted there to be a lot of talk about them. They wanted people to talk about how great they were. After they sold the property, they began thinking, "It won't hurt if we keep a little of this for ourselves, will it?"
One could also make the point that God was purifying His people for their own good. The Church was about to face some tough times, so holiness and purity were essential. Giving a lecture about holiness and purity is one thing. Seeing people die because of a lack thereof is something completely different.
The other effect of this is that many more (multitudes) believed and were added to the Church.
Here's what comprises the typical American dream: Getting married, having 2.5 kids, and buying the house with the white picket fence, two-car garage, and well-manicured lawn. Here's what it usually doesn't include: hauling groceries up a fourth-floor walkup; dodging taxis, harried pedestrians and street vendors during the morning commute; and paying a premium for an apartment considered a walk-in closet anywhere else.
Read the rest of the article.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The next morning Peter and John were summoned before Caiaphas the high priest. Not at all intimated, Peter launched into another rebuke, reminding them once again that it was they who had murdered the Son of God. Luke writes, "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished" (4:13). They had nothing to say. Furthermore, then man who had been healed was also in the room. There was nothing to say! In a last ditch effort to save face, they "warned" Peter and John to quit talking about Jesus...or else. Peter responded, "...for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (4:20).
After they were released they went to see their friends and shared what had taken place. This led into a time of prayer that ended with the ground shaking: "And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus" (4:29-30).
Notice that they did not ask God to keep them safe. They did not ask for God to deliver them from the same people who had killed their Master. No, they asked for boldness. They also asked for God to do what only He could do. They asked for signs and wonders.
Chapter 4 ends with another beautiful account of community. Luke writes, "no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common" (4:32). Luke goes on to say that there were no needy people among them. The reason: People who owned property and land were selling it and giving it to the apostles for distribution.
On my other blog, I'm starting to put together an administrative procedures manual (all three of those words sound so boring; I'll have to think of new terminology). We want to be a church that starts other churches, and I'm hoping that this becomes a practical tool for church planters. I know that Jason and I would have benefited greatly from something like this.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
698,000 inmates were released from prison in the last 12 months. Most will be behind bars again by 2009. How can we keep more from returning?
Some 2.2 million people (one in every 136 U.S. residents) are doing time in prison, according to FBI statistics. Add to that number another 4 million or more on probation, parole, or awaiting trial in local jails. This past year, prison populations grew 4.7 percent—the largest annual growth spurt in nearly ten years.
As prison populations have soared, the number of prisoners who are freed has also increased significantly. Prisons free at least 600,000 each year.
But most freed inmates have few marketable job skills. The lack of a job is a major risk factor for an ex-offender to commit a new crime. Researchers say the repeat-offense rate nationally is stubbornly high, at more than 60 percent.
The Justice Department also recently noted that black men make up 41 percent of all inmates, and Hispanic women are 1.6 times more likely than white women to be imprisoned.
Pat Nolan, head of Justice Fellowship (a PF-affiliate), told CT, "Locking up prisoners without doing anything to change their moral perspective or give them skills to live crime-free when they are released has made us less safe rather than more.
PF's Earley told CT that he believes new approaches are required to attack the chronic problem of repeat offenders. Worship services in prisons are not enough. "What is increasingly needed today," he said, "is a one-on-one relationship and helping them with their life."
Release from prison is when the hard work begins. "The first 60 to 90 days is the real tipping point as to whether they're going to make it or not," said Earley.
You can read the entire article here.
The man stood and began to walk, but before he was even in the temple he was leaping and praising God. Once again, those observing were filled with wonder and amazement.
Peter now had another opportunity to preach. He stood in what was known as Solomon's Porch. This would become the site of much of the public preaching done by Peter and the apostles. Peter once again cut right to the point - that they had murdered the Son of God. There was good news, though. They could be forgiven. He said, "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord..." (3:19-20).
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
You have to remember that the majority of these new converts did not live in Jerusalem. They were only planning on staying for a few days, and then would be returning to their homes. However, something amazing had just happened, and it appears that many of them stayed in Jerusalem. That would of course pose some problems. Where would they live? How would they be able to afford to stay in Jerusalem? What about their families back home?
Community happened out of necessity. Those who lived in Jerusalem opened up their homes to their new family. They shared everything they had. No one was in need.
Like all churches, we've been thinking through the issue of small groups. Everyone wants community, but we want it on our terms. The best community happens when it's not on our terms. True community isn't something that you can turn on and off. If community is happening, it's messy. Perhaps that's why I've experienced true community so little in my life. It brings to the surface a lot of "in your face" questions. Do I really want to sell my possessions and give to those who are in need? Do I want to open my home up to anyone, at any time. That's obviously not always the wisest thing to do (there's something called boundaries, and I believe that God has wired us with those boundaries).
That being said, I'm still faced with the question, "Do I really want to experience this type of community?"
Many people also find in this passage the primary functions of a church. This is found in verse 42. Tim Keller has a great little article on this that is worth reading. He lists the purposes this way:
- Worship and prayer
- Learning and edification
- Fellowship and community
- Outreach and evangelism
- Mercy and social concern
For the past ten days this group of 120 had been together, devoting themselves to prayer. All they knew was that Jesus had told them to return to Jerusalem and wait. On the morning of Pentecost, while the city was crammed with people from all over, the Holy Spirit fell on the followers of Jesus and they began praising God in languages that they did not know. Others knew these languages, though. They were the languages of the devout Jews who had traveled from all over the known world to come to Jerusalem.
A large crowd gathered. A few onlookers were skeptical, believing that they were drunk. However, most were amazed by what was taking place. Peter stood up along with the eleven other apostles, and he addressed the crowd. Before going any farther, I have to go back in time. This is the Peter who constantly spoke up before thinking. He's the one who on one hand speaks up and declares that Jesus is the Messiah, but then soon afterwards rebukes Jesus when he says that he is going to die soon. He's the one denies Jesus after arguing with Jesus that denial was impossible. And he is the one whom Jesus restored. That Peter gets up and addresses the crowd.
He quotes from the prophet Joel. Everyone in the crowd surely knows this passage of Scripture. In that passage God declared that he would pour out his Spirit on his people. Peter then transforms into a bold preacher. He points to Jesus as the fulfillment of all of Scripture. And he tells the crowd that it was they who murdered him.
I think the key statement, the tipping point, so to speak, was when Peter said, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."
Later on in the book of Acts, Paul makes statements like this and then is stoned or run out of town. But this is not what happens at this moment. Those who heard Peter "were cut to the heart", and their response was, "Brothers, what shall we do?" (2:37). Peter's response:
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 (2:38).
What an amazing day! After Peter's sermon, 3000 people believed, were baptized, and became a part of a dynamic new community that would later be known as the Church.
Before ascending, Jesus told them to return to Jerusalem (the one place they never wanted to go back to). He told them to wait there until they received the Holy Spirit. They obviously didn't understand that completely, but they obeyed. The first statement in verse 12 is very vivid to me: "Then they returned to Jerusalem." Jesus is gone again. He's told them to go to the place where he was murdered. It surely was a long Sabbath day's journey (1:12).
They did get one thing right, though. They devoted the next ten days to prayer. The eleven apostles were there, along with "the women" and Jesus' family. 1 Corinthians 15:7 says that during those forty days Jesus spent time with his brother James, and James finally believed that his older brother was the Messiah. Up to that point, only Mary believed, and she too had her moments of doubt.
Chapter 1 ends with Peter standing up before the 120 and declaring that Judas did what he did so that the Scriptures would be fulfilled. They now had to find his replacement. They prayed, then cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias.
First, a little background. Acts was written sometime before 64 AD by Dr. Luke, who also wrote (yes, you guessed it) the gospel of Luke. Luke doesn't write about Paul's death under Nero, which many believe took place in 64 AD. Therefore most scholars believe that it was written before he died.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Saturday, September 08, 2007
There was once a community of people who were completely devoted to God. They were so devoted to God that when He told them to go, they went. They would do whatever God told them to do. In this community there was a radical love for one another that broke down every kind of wall there is. Each member used his or her spiritual gifts, and they knew that they were dependent not only on God, but on one another as well. They believed that God could perform signs and wonders, and because of this, they regularly stood in awe. The people in this community of faith burned with passion to take the gospel to their world. When they were threatened and told to stop, they met in an open room and prayed not for God to stop the Romans, but for courage to spill their blood. There was once a community of faith like this.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
One evening in September, 1997, my roommate, Andy, told me that a friend of his was helping to start a church, and they were looking for a worship leader. They wondered if I might be interested. Up to that point, I really knew nothing about church planting, but I was definitely interested (yeah, no more bookstore job)!
A week or so later I met with Mark Jackson, and he told me about his plans to start The Church@Hickory Hollow. I loved what I heard, and I felt that this was why I had moved to Nashville. It excited me to be a part of something like this. The amazing thing was that several weeks of talking took place before they ever heard me play the guitar, and that was a good thing, because I didn't really play the guitar that well at the time.
We spent that fall building a core group, and in January, 1998, we had our first public worship service. We definitely had humble beginnings. That Sunday morning I led worship, with my then-girlfriend Mandy singing with me. I set in a swivel chair because I couldn't stand and play the guitar. I dropped my pick two or three times that morning. The swivel chair was nice because I could turn around to adjust the sound to fulfill my other role as sound tech - not that I really knew what I was doing there either.
The Church@Hickory Hollow holds a special place in my heart. This was mine and Mandy's first church together - just about everyone in the church showed up on June 12, 1999 to watch us get married. I was also given lots of opportunities to serve and use my gifts. I had my first opportunities to speak there. I got to work with small groups, to equip and develop leaders, and to lead a band. This was also the place where God laid on my heart a desire to start churches. Because of this call, in September, 1999, I started feeling like God might be calling us to get more training in this area, and one year later we were in the San Francisco Bay Area.
So now ten years have passed. I'm back in Tennessee, though it's now Memphis instead of Nashville. And I now have the opportunity to help start another church. My life is good. God has allowed me to not only dream, but to see my dreams realized. I am truly grateful to Him for this.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
It's easy to be overcome by stress during times like this, but every time that starts to happen, I'm reminded that this is Jesus' thing, not mine. He said that He would build His Church. He's the One who draws people to Himself. He's opened and closed all of the doors that needed to be opened and closed. He will grow this church the way He wants to grow it.
So what's our role? Just to trust and obey. It's really that simple. Oh, and not to freak out over every little detail. That comes back to being a child, which is something else that's easy to forget.