“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.”
I will always remember my 8th through 10th grade years as having some of the most profoundly impacting experiences in my life. During this time, I had my first experience going on mission with my youth group to Pennsylvania. We performed concerts as a choir, held backyard Bible clubs in local parks and went door to door sharing our faith. It was the first time I led someone to the Lord and the trips each year were an incredibly fruitful endeavor. Our group got very close as we stepped out in faith and saw God do amazing things. In these years I had a passion for God’s Word, reading it through and memorizing scores and scores of verses. I was part of a small group of guys that met at 7am every Tuesday morning to pray, memorize scripture and talk about how God was working in our lives. I wanted to spend as much time as I could at church because of the Christian friendships I had and the way we spurred each other on in our faith. Our group grew in number as other students wanted to see what was going on. And those experiences had long lasting consequences. Over a half dozen of us were called into full time ministry and many more continue to live out their faith with their families and in their varying professions.
I would love to report that year after year followed the same trajectory, but that was not the case. Dark and trying days followed as heroes fell to poor choices, church business meetings spiraled into heated and personal attacks, and dissention stretched beyond meetings as gossip poisoned the fellowship and competing agendas took president over Kingdom work.
The combination of my experiences with the church – the halcion days followed by the difficult days taught me the potential of the church on both sides of the spectrum. When God’s Spirit is moving and embraced by His people, the church can be a mighty force, bringing life and love and excitement unrivaled. It can be a glimpse of what we will experience in eternity. It is like the man who finds a diamond in a field and sells all he has to procure it.
But because the church is made up of sinful and broken people, when we fall to our worst nature, the church can be a place of abuse, manipulation and dissention. Many of our friends and family members have stories where a church experience has repelled them from any thoughts of God or Christian community. And part of the problem may lie in the expectations that we place on the church.
Many times we read the passage above and wonder why our church doesn’t follow a similar pattern. There was no begging for the believers to give or take part in the ministry. They were looking for ways to be involved in what God was doing. And the church grew and grew as more came to the faith. But don’t forget that much of the New Testament is made up of letters to the churches giving counsel and rebuke for the shameful and inappropriate things that were taking place.
We are flawed and unfortunately have a tendency to drag our junk along with us. But we are loved by a glorious Father who invites us in, not only to be His children, but also to learn how to be a family with other believers in order to reach those who are far from Him. May we meditate on the passage above, praying to walk in faith and obedience (and love and patience with each other) so that we can experience the best that “church” can be.
While using the HEAR method (see below) take time to think on the following things:
- Write down the different activities that the early church did during this time (ie. they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship).
- Write down the results seen because of their actions.
- Is this passage simply descriptive (of what took place then), or is it also prescriptive (what we are to do in order to see God work and move in our fellowship)?
Highlight – what words or phrases jump out at you?
Explain – what does the passage mean?
Apply – how does the passage intersect with your life today?
Respond – how is God leading you to respond?
Jon Price, Associate Pastor