Church 101: The Promise is for You

“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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

For the next few days, we’re going to drop in on the first days of the church. The word “church” has a lot of different meanings to people. What we mean this week is a group made up of all Christians everywhere – and also the members of that group that come together to “do church” in a certain town or neighborhood.

church_350Today’s passage is the invitation from Peter at the end of his sermon just after the Holy Spirit had come to fill all the believers in Jesus. This is after Jesus’ resurrection and after he had gone back up into heaven. The arrival of the Spirit drew a huge crowd because it was loud and it involved supernatural sights (“fire tongues” above people’s heads) and sounds (people speaking fluently in languages they didn’t know so all could understand).

Peter’s testimony was that this display of spiritual power was evidence that Jesus – the one who had just been crucified and resurrected – is “both Christ and Lord.” Convicted, the people wanted to know what they could do. Today’s verse was Peter’s answer – and 2,000 years later we still offer Jesus as the answer to all who want to know what to do to be forgiven for their sins and receive the gift of Holy Spirit themselves.

Think: How would you put into your own words the basic message we, the church, hold out to everyone who does not yet know Jesus as “Christ and Lord”?

Pray: If you’re a Christian, thank God for forgiving your sins through your faith in Jesus and for giving you the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Do: Read Acts 2 to catch the entire story of this amazing day known as Pentecost.

Church 101: Escape!

“With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:40-41)

We’re continuing our snapshot look at the birth of the New Testament church. In a way, you could call Pentecost the church’s grand opening. That’s the day the Holy Spirit came and filled the new believers, the day Peter fearlessly preached the truth about Jesus right out loud in public, the day 3,000 became Christians.

church_350They responded to his pleading: “Save yourselves form this corrupt generation.” He was likely talking about the generation of Israelites responsible for rejecting Jesus as Messiah. But it would be fair to call every generation corrupt, I guess. Yours is, too. The majority of your peers have rejected Jesus and operate according to a system that is all about searching for meaning in pleasure, possessions, and status – and coming up short. Coming up doomed, in fact, to a hopeless eternity.

The only escape from that system, from that fate – from the path of your generation – is through faith in Jesus into the family of God. In other words, the church is collection of escapees freed from a failed worldview and finally headed in the only direction that makes any sense – toward our home with Christ. It’s not the easy way right now, but it’s easier when we all head that way together.

Are you an escapee? If so, who are you running with?

Think: If you’ve escaped a failed worldview (and hell) by putting your faith in Jesus instead of self (or anything else), are you doing anything to help anyone else make it over the wall? What could you do?

Pray: If you’re a Christian, thank God for helping you to escape from unbelief and into a relationship with him through faith in Christ. Thank him for all the others who have escaped since the day of Pentecost.

Do: Get all of your friends together and wear prison-style orange jumpsuits to church next week, explaining to everyone that you are escapees from your unbelieving generation. Okay, we both know you won’t really do that. But it’s fun to think about.

Church 101: Are You Devoted?

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

Once the New Testament church had been launched, what did they do with themselves? That’s the question we’ll spend the rest of the week and weekend answering from the end of Acts 2.

church_350The first thing they did is the one thing Christian churches still focus on most clearly: They tuned into the apostles’ teaching. The apostles were those guys who had been trained by Jesus and specifically chosen to teach the church how to walk after him. A couple of millennia later, we’re still devoting ourselves to their teaching in the pages of the New Testament.

The church then, like yours today hopefully, was all about spending time together, as in “all for one and one for all.” That meant eating and praying together became the norm for this growing family of brothers and sisters in Christ.

Membership in the church was never meant to be an online-only kind of thing that you went off an did by yourself. God intended us to be a family, learning about Christ and following after him together, asking him for help because it’s hard to follow him, and “breaking bread” together (for Communion or “the Lord’s Supper”) to remember what he did and what he will do.

Think: How does your church do in these areas? How do you do at participating in each of these things with the people in your church? Do you think you place enough value on participating in church life?

Pray: Ask God to help you to devote yourself, along with other Christians, to studying God’s Word and to the fellowship of believers by breaking bread and praying together.

Do: Write down a number from 1 to 10 (with 10 being high), rating your opinion of how your church does at each of these areas: being devoted to the Bible’s teaching, eating and/or sharing Communion together, and praying together. Then write down a number rating how you do at contributing to these areas in your church.

Church 101: Filled with Awe?

“Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.” (Acts 2:43)

What does it take to impress you? Are you skeptical, sarcastic, cynical, a hard sell? Yeah, me too, sometimes. I think most of us learn to put up some kind of wall against being too easily impressed because we live in the advertising age. Too many people want us to get fired up about too many worthless things.

church_350But people still get plenty excited about what matters to them. If you’ve ever caught any coverage of Comic-Con in San Diego, you likely saw some fanboys (and fangirls) that were “filled with awe” by photo ops with movie stars and scoops from directors about their favorite shows and films. Part of being in a group is getting excited about the same things together.

Church people get excited about God together. Of course, it would have been impressive to see the miracles performed by Jesus’ supernaturally empowered apostles in the early days. But God’s power is still at work, still on display through his Spirit in the lives of his people. His creation still boggles the mind; his sacrificial love still overwhelms the emotions.

Feelings of awe come and go. Our relationship with God through Jesus isn’t defined by emotion. But if we never feel any enthusiasm about God when we’re together with Christians – if we never get a little fanboy thrill about moving closer to him – we might be missing out on part of what it means to belong to the church.

Think: Does it bother you when a roomful of Christians “doing church” feels completely lifeless? Does it bother you when a roomful of Christians seems to be trying so hard to be excited that it feels fake? What does it mean to you to be “filled with awe” with other Christians in a way that is real and meaningful?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be able to be impressed by who he is and what he has done, is doing, and will do.

Do: Notice this week anyone in your church who seems to be genuinely filled with awe by some aspect of God or his Word.

Church 101: All for One?

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

My two younger brothers sometimes like to get really close to me and just stand there – or randomly touch me for no apparent reason. Why? Because they know it drives me crazy. I’ve got what some people call “space bubble” issues. I like to get close to people as long as we all understand the boundaries. I’m either a regular old introvert or a selfish control freak – or a little of both – but I love me my personal space.

church_350That’s why these descriptions of the early Christians make me a little nervous. You? I mean I’m all for the church being close, being a family, being there for each other – as long as we all go home to our separate houses and watch our own TV shows and stay out of each others’ business when not invited.

Instead, these first churchies apparently erased a lot of those cultural boundary lines we all take for granted. They cashed out and put all their personal money in the same account. They didn’t just put some of their paycheck in the plate; they sold the stuff in their houses to pay each others’ rent and medical bills and groceries. (I’d be more willing to do that for someone else than to have them do it for me, you know?)

We don’t naturally understand that kind of no-boundaries mutual commitment. At least, I don’t. But in a way, it sounds kind of wonderful to be so connected to a group of people – because of our mutual love for God and each other – that the boundaries get blurry. Guess I’m going to need to keep shrinking my space bubble.

Think: Does it make you nervous to think about being that deeply integrated with a group of people – or do you wish your church was more like this today? Why?

Pray: Ask God to help you be willing to go beyond the boundaries to meet the needs of other Christians – and to have them do the same for you.

Do: Ask someone in leadership at your church for some examples of ways your church has come together to help out people in real need. (You might be surprised how generous your fellow churchies can be.)

Church 101: So Happy Together?

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:46-47)

A few more things about these first New Testament churchies:

church_350They hung out every day. They met at the temple courts and went to each others’ houses. They just liked spending time together. Remember, they had something in common – they were all excited about belonging to God through faith in Jesus.

They did a lot of eating, both for what we call “the Lord’s Supper” and for, you know, lunch and snacks and dinner. Eating together was a big part of being a (big) family together. When you have a choice, you tend to eat with the people you care most about.

They were happy, with “glad and sincere hearts.”

They praised God together – and probably not just during the “worship service.”

Everyone liked them. At first, these new Christians were popular in the community. And why not? Who doesn’t like to be around glad, sincere people that love to spend time together eating and praising God? It’s no wonder they enjoyed the “favor of all the people” for a while.

Think: Would you say that the Christians in your church like to hang out together more than once or twice a week? Like to eat together? Are mostly glad and sincere? Praise God together? Are well-liked in your community?

Pray: Ask God to help you to enjoy being connected to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Do: Make a point to notice during this next week how much time you spend with other Christians, how much you enjoy it, and how that impacts those outside of the church.

Church 101: More Every Day?

“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)

We’ve spent this last week looking at a snapshot of what the early New Testament church was like. We’ve seen what it meant to these brand new Christians to “do church.” It’s helpful to notice what church was like for them, because they were the first ones to be the church (at least in the way we think of it), and they received all their instructions directly from Jesus’ apostles.

church_350I’m sure there are things you like – and don’t – about your own church. I’d guess the Christians in your church are like these first “churchies” in some ways and not in others. Every church could learn from their commitment to and enjoyment of each other – all while following after Jesus.

The last thing we notice in today’s verse is that people were being saved and joining them every single day. What if that happened in your church? Would people be surprised, excited, confused, upset? Is it something your community is hoping for?

God wants to bring people into relationship with him through Jesus. And he can do that through your local church. Do you expect that he will? Have you asked him to help make it happen?

Think: Would you guess that someone gets saved every day through the ministries or relationships of people in your church? Is that a realistic goal? What expectations do you think most of the people in your church have for seeing new people become Christians and become part of your church family?

Pray: Thank God that he is active in working through the church to reach out to lost people right now. Ask him to help your church to be a place where people get saved and grow in Christ.

Do: Ask someone in leadership in your church what they expect or hope for in terms of new people getting saved and becoming part of your church family.