JUST A CHRISTIAN

Take a trip with me for a few minutes.  Let’s travel back in our minds to the middle of the first century.  Jesus had died on the cross and was raised from the dead on the third day.  Following His resurrection he spent 40 days teaching, preaching and telling about the coming kingdom.  Then he ascended back to the Father in heaven.  On the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2 the church was established in Jerusalem.  3,000 people were added to the number that first day.  Then the church grew in leaps and bounds for the next few years.  To begin with it was just among the Jews and especially in Jerusalem.  But persecution arose against the early Christians and they were scattered about.  When they were scattered instead of being quiet about the gospel of Jesus they began to spread the message wherever they went.  Philip went to Samaria and preached Christ to them and many became disciples of Jesus.  He was sent by the Holy Spirit into the desert to meet an Ethiopian Eunuch who was treasurer for the Queen of Ethiopia.  He was a worshiper of God but didn’t know Jesus.  Philip went to him, taught him more of the truth of God’s word and informed him of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  He was baptized out there in the desert.

In time the church spread even to Gentiles, with Peter first being sent to the home of Cornelius a centurion in the Roman army who was a devout man who prayed to God daily and gave liberally to the people in need.  He and his family became followers of Christ.  From there some of the disciples went to Antioch where they preached to the Gentiles about Christ and many were converted to him.  The first predominantly Gentile church was established.  Barnabas was sent to minister to them and he invited Saul who had been converted to Christ to join him in the work.  It was there that the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).  Many believe that it was first a name given out of derision to the people.  The Bible never says that.  It simply notes that this was the first place the followers of Christ were given that name.  Later king Agrippa would say to Paul, “Do you believe you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). Paul responded that he would to God that not only Agrippa but all others also were like him except for these bonds.  Later in I Peter 4:16 Peter would say, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”

What intrigues me is that here in this time, when the Bible was being completed, every time the word Christian was used it was used to describe one’s relationship with Jesus the Lord, Savior and Master of their lives.  They were disciples of Jesus.  They had accepted the challenge to follow him.  But, it is obvious from these uses of the word, “Christian” it wasn’t ever used in the way we tend to use it today.  In our time if one says, “I’m a Christian” they normally feel they must go ahead and describe what kind of Christian they are.  I don’t mean the kind in the sense of a good one or bad one, but in the brand of Christian.  I hear people say, “I’m a Baptist Christian”, “I’m a Catholic Christian”, “I’m a Mormon Christian”, or “I’m a Chuch of Christ Christian.”  Every such use of the word is a pathetic, unscriptural, divisive and ungodly use of the word.  When we put some other word with the word Christian we are declaring that we follow Christ only in the way this particular group teaches us to follow him.  By putting the group name ahead of His we indicate it is more important to be right with the church group than with Jesus whom we are to follow.

What if we actually went back to use the word the way it is used in the New Testament and in the way it was used in the first century?  What if those who are trying to follow Jesus dropped all their brand names and simply committed to following Jesus and declaring to the world that we are all Christians and let the message stop there?  It would mean we needed to spend more time learning what Jesus tells us to do and following His example than trying to learn what our church group thinks, believes or teaches.  We would really go back to Scripture to learn God’s will for us.  It would mean that the dividing lines between people that claim to follow Christ would fade away and become meaningless.  By the way, isn’t that exactly what Paul was pleading for in I Corinthians 1:10-17 when he reprimanded them for their division and declaring “I follow Paul”,”I follow Apollos”, or “I follow Peter.”  Some were even using the name Christ in the same divisive way by saying, “I follow Christ” as if to say that none of the others really did.  Paul’s challenge was, “Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”  The answer to each of the questions was to be, “Absolutely not!”

The problem so often is that we have too many people who are trying their very best to get on the throne with Christ to reign alongside him and not nearly enough people who are ready to recognize that Jesus is king of kings and Lord of Lords.  He is seated now on David’s throne and is reigning over his kingdom. Remember Paul’s plea in Ephesians 3:21, “Unto him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”

I want to ask you today to prayerfully consider going back to the language of the first century and being just a Christian.  Not a particular brand of Christian, but just a Christian who is devoted to following Jesus in every part of life.  It will be different for sure.  It may even be revolutionary.  But one thing is certain, it will fit what the Bible teaches and the will of God a million times better than the notion of a hyphenated Christian of some sort.  

Oh God, help us today to realize our divisions, separations and efforts to grow by tearing down others who are trying to follow you as much as we are is doing all kinds of harm in the world.  Help us Lord to be simply Christians who are totally committed to following Jesus in every part of our lives.  I pray for your guidance and the help of the Holy Spirit to convict us and lead us in following Christ and serving You our Father in heaven.  Through Jesus we pray, amen.

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WRITING PRAYERS

Do you write out your prayers to God at times?  It intrigues me to notice how different my prayers are that are spoken to the Father and the ones that I write out.  In spoken prayers it is very easy to run down the same road over and over again every time we pray.  But in written prayers we tend to go in very different directions from one time to the next and they don’t tend to fit some mold.

It always amazes me to read the prayers of Paul for the different churches that he wrote.  Almost every letter will contain at least one prayer and most of them have more than one.  Sometimes the prayers are quite extended but in most cases the prayers will only cover two to three verses and get to the point quickly.  Such is the case in Philippians 1:9-11.  “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”  Notice it isn’t pictured as though Paul stopped at this very moment to pray this prayer for them.  Instead it seems he is simply revealing to them the kinds of things he prays for them on a regular basis.  It would be like us telling our grown children or grandchildren, “These are the things I pray about on your behalf on a regular basis.  It wouldn’t mean that he used the same words every time.  But he wanted them to know the things that were on his heart when he prayed for the church in Philippi.

Haven’t you ever had someone say to you that they pray for you on a regular basis, perhaps even daily?  Have you ever wondered when you hear that message, what they pray on your behalf every day?  I suspect the church in Philippi that was very close to Paul’s heart, knew he prayed for them regularly.  But it made a difference for them to know what kinds of things he was praying for them.

He prayed that their love would just keep on growing all the time.  I’m certain he was praying that their love for God, for each other and for their neighbors in the world to keep multiplying.  He may even have thought of their love for each other in the church or in their families.  But he was praying that love would be growing constantly more dominant in their lives.  But notice he is specific about the kind of love he longs to grow in their lives.  It is a love that will bring knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best.  Let’s face it, most of the time when we talk about love it wouldn’t fit these parameters.  We tend to think of love as the mushy feeling that is better felt than told.  Paul prayed for a love that will abound to knowledge.  This is a love that is thinking, planning and leads to action.  It is a love that will develop in us depth of insight.    We might well use the word “wisdom” for this point.  It is that ability to take what we know and understand and use it to make the best decisions in our life.  So, what is the great purpose of this depth of insight in our life?

It is that we might have the discernment to know what is best.  Some of the older translations have, “to approve the things that are excellent.”  Don’t you love to be around people that have the gift of wisdom?  They just seem to be able to look at all the options in life and choose the best way to go.  Surely every parent wants to pray this prayer for their children.  It isn’t just that they make good decisions.  We want them to have the discernment to determine what is best and follow that route.  Notice he ties that discernment to being pure and blameless in the day of Christ.  Normally, the day of Christ refers to the time when the Lord comes again to receive his own.  The only way anyone can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ is if they have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus from their sins and are walking in the flow of Christ blood that constantly keeps us clean.

But notice that his prayer isn’t just for them to be clean in the day of Christ, forgiven of their sins and pure in God’s sight.  He also prays for them to be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.  It is certainly our prayer for anyone we love that they will be pure and clean before God when they leave this world or when the Lord returns to judge his own.  But we also want them to be effective servants for God that are bearing fruit to His glory and praise all the time.  In John 15:1-8 Jesus described Christians as the branches that produce good fruit in the vine.  It isn’t the rotten fruit that comes when lack of attention or failure to keep the relationship tight with the vine.  It is the fruit that comes naturally in a life connected to Christ all the time. Our calling is to abide in him so his word can abide in us and we, like the tree planted in the best soil for the particular tree it is and that is pruned and cared for by the master regularly.  This kind of fruitfulness brings glory and praise to God.

It is one thing to get praise from others who love us about how well we are doing.  It is a totally different thing to have the praise and glory that comes from God for a life of faith and service to him that will not quit.  Would you join me in praying this prayer for some special people in our lives over the next couple of weeks?  As we enjoy the Thanksgiving season, what a special blessing it would be to pray this prayer for family, friends, children, grandchildren, fellow followers of Christ and even for those we don’t know as well in the world.  I believe it will make a difference for good.

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GREAT IN GOD’S SIGHT

I dearly love hearing a father or mother talk about their children and what they are doing in life, when they are excited and almost in awe of how much their children are accomplishing.  I had lunch today with a friend who talked about his son and how proud he was of him and his life for God.  

It caused me to think of the time when the angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah as he ministered in the temple.  Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth were older and had been married for a long time but had never been able to have children.  Now Gabriel explained to him that things were about to change drastically for them.  His wife was going to have a son.  “You are to call him John.  He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.  He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.  He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:13b-17)

Zechariah and Elizabeth are a godly couple who have devoted their lives to serving God.  But, until now, something was missing.  They wanted children and things had seemed somewhat empty when she wasn’t able to give birth to a child.  But now, that was all to change.  Wouldn’t it be something amazing to have an angel of God tell you that your child was going to be a joy and delight.  Most of the time when we anticipate the birth of a child it is with joy and delight.  But, as years pass, and challenges arise, it often seems that the joy and delight is fading.

But what is so amazing to me is the promise that their son that was still only a promise, was to be great in the sight of the Lord.  It is entirely possible for a child to be great in the eyes of the parents when they aren’t great at all in God’s sight.  It is also possible for one to be great in God’s sight and a huge disappointment to their parents.  For parents to both be filled with Joy and delight about the life of their child and God to see them as great is extremely powerful.  Surely that is what every Christian parent longs for as they look at their children.  

It draws us to ask the question, what makes a person great in God’s sight?  If it were being great in people’s eyes we might think of things like making lots of money, being a great athlete, getting higher degrees of education, or starting a business that is successful.  But, in God’s sight, none of those things would carry much weight.  Look at the things that Luke tells us would make John great in God’s sight.

Notice Luke says Gabriel demanded that they bring him up as a Nazarite who wouldn’t drink any wine or fermented drink.  Instead of his being filled with wine he would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.  Later when Mary, the mother to be of Jesus came for a visit, John leaped in his mother’s womb due to her presence and the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  He will filled with the Spirit in the womb of Elizabeth.  From the beginning of his life he was devoted to God and was guided by the Holy Spirit in everything.  Notice that today God calls upon every follower of Christ to be filled with the Holy Spirit instead of being drunk with wine wherein is excess (Ephesians 5:18).  When we allow the Spirit to control us and guide us we live the life that God calls us to live in the world.

But there were three other significant reasons why John was great in God’s sight.  First, he would go in the spirit and power of Elijah the prophet.  Second he would turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to to wisdom of the righteous and third he would make ready a people prepared for the Lord.  These are things that can make anyone great in God’s sight.  Going in the power and spirit of Elijah involves living under the Holy Spirit’s guide in life, of marching to his orders and listening for his lead.  It is great in God’s sight when we can somehow turn the hearts of parents back to their children.  It is terribly easy as parents to become so involved in our adult world that we turn the training and discipline of our children over to other people.  But no one can take the place of a loving father and mother who love their child so deeply they are ready to sacrifice many of the blessings and opportunities of their lives for the benefit of their children.  I wonder how many promotions we would turn down in life or how many opportunities we would skip if our hearts were set on our children and their good rather than on us.  Notice he tied with the turning of the hearts of parents to their children, turning the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous.  So, our focus can’t be just on our own children but of striving to take the people we know and love in life to God and his will for them.  When we can turn anyone away from Sin to God we change the whole world for them.

Finally, he said he would be great in God’s sight because he would make ready a people prepared for the Lord.  Here is the challenge for everyone of us.  If I want to be seen as Great in God’s view, I need to start with me, then my wife or husband to make certain we are committed to God fully.  Then we  need to focus on our children to make certain they learn the will of God and are encouraged to live the life of a follower of Christ.  In the process we will strive to witness for God to all those who our children are around from day to day.  Ultimately, that interest and turning people to God reaches out to people I meet, those in the area, ones who work with me or just people we know from some aspect of life.  Our longing is to be that witness for God to everyone we can to turn their hearts to God rather than to sin.

I want to be great in God’s sight and I certainly want my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to be great in His sight.  Isn’t that a noble ambition for us all?

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WHEN ALL FEELS USELESS

I’ve been drawn to the Book of Ecclesiastes lately for some reason.  It has to be one of the oddest books of the Bible and there are times when I wonder why it is in the Bible at all.  But, I suspect there are times in most of our lives when we feel a whole lot like the writer of Ecclesiastes.  It seems to be the case that Solomon is the writer even though he isn’t named in it.  But he does mention his being the king of Israel, the son of David and his great wealth and wisdom, so it fits him.  Looking at Solomon’s life, one would normally think of him as extremely blessed.  This book seems to have been written when he was an old man, has messed up many things in his life and now as he looks back over the horizon it all seems meaningless to him.  The second verse of the Book sets the tone with” Meaningless, Meaningless! says the teacher. Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”

He could have looked back and thought about how God had answered his prayer for wisdom and made him the wisest man alive.  He could have looked back and considered the fact God chose him to build the temple rather than this father David.  He could have looked back and seen how God had blessed the kingdom during his rule and it had become extremely wealthy and powerful.  But those things seemed far away.  It had been a long time since he felt his life really made any difference for good.  This certainly isn’t rare.  Think of the lives of so many who have been in powerful positions in life, then it ends and they have an extremely difficult time not being in the spotlight any longer.  They can’t get over the fact the crowds don’t gather around them now, reporters aren’t at their door and life moves on.  But it isn’t just the powerful.  The truth is when you realize the best days of this life are behind you and that you aren’t able to do many of the things you used to do without even thinking about it.  Sometimes it feels that life has moved on and somehow you got caught in the traffic and missed the parade.

Solomon’s response to those feelings was that he set upon a mission to rebuild the meaning and purpose to his life.  He determined, since he was a wise person, to put all kinds of things to the test to see if they would bring meaning and purpose to his life.  He took the tremendous wealth and opportunities he had to run a scientific test to see what would make one feel loved, important, and useful again.

In chapter 2:1-3 he describes some of his efforts, “I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.  But that also proved to be meaningless.  Laughter, I said, is madness.  And what does pleasure accomplish?  I tried cheering myself with wines and embracing folly – my mind still guiding me with wisdom, I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.” He goes on to talk about buildings he had built, gardens planted and reservoirs to water the groves of flourishing trees.  He bought servants of all kinds, amassed silver and gold, and denied himself nothing his eyes desired.  But he found it all meaningless and chasing after the wind.

He reached the point that he hated life when he thought of all the work he had done and now he was facing death and who would receive all this stuff.  Would they care for it, take care of it or just waste it all?  It just seemed meaningless and chasing the wind.  Strangely, this despair led to one of the greatest statements of the book and from life as a whole.  In chapter 3:1-8 he wrote: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

As one works their way through the book there are both times of constant complaining about life and its circumstances and times when he offers great advise on living.  Near the end of the Book in the last verses of chapter 11 and all of chapter 12 he challenges those who are young to enjoy their youth knowing it doesn’t last and to remember their creator in the days of youth before the evil days come when you will say you have no pleasure in them.  He looked closely at the days before death and the time when death comes and the dust returns to the dust and the spirit unto God who gave it.  Even that brought again the plea, “Meaningless! Meaningless, says the teacher, everything is meaningless.”  He seems frustrated to know that there would always be more books written and the study of them brings weariness to the body.  

By far the greatest message of the book comes with the final words in chapter 12.  “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter; Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

It many ways Solomon wasted the huge opportunities God gave him with his pursuit of pleasure, power and pomp.  Yet, as he reached the final days of his life, he realized it was all without meaning and purpose.  If only he had remembered through his whole life that the ultimate purpose of mankind is to fear God and keep his commands.  it would surely have mattered if he had kept in view that God would bring everything into judgement and nothing is hidden from his view.  It is normal to feel like our place, purpose and value is passing.  But it is vital in such times to keep the focus on God and our duty to Him who makes all things have meaning.

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A KINGDOM DIVIDED

Jesus made one of his most powerful statements about life when he was accused of casting out demons by the power of the devil.  It is amazing when people hate you for some reason how they can come up with the craziest ideas of how you are doing good things.  The religious leaders in Israel were frustrated to the hilt with Jesus.  He wouldn’t line up with their thinking. He broke their traditions.  He refused to observe the Sabbath in the way they felt it had to be done.  His teaching often went against the very things they felt were important.  Instead of just focusing on the outward actions Jesus went to the heart and demonstrated it wasn’t what you ate or whether or not you washed your hands right but what was in the heart that determined if a thing was good or evil.  All that was frustrating to them.  But, at the same time he was teaching these things, he was healing people of all kinds of illness, casting out demons that were destroying the lives of people.  He gave many blind people sight, deaf people could now hear and those who had leprosy were being cleansed.  So, in light of the teaching they hated, how could they explain the fact Jesus was doing so many things that were good and helpful to the people?  Their answer, he is doing all this by the power of the Beelzebub the prince of the demons.

“Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.  If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?”  From a common sense point of view, the charges that they were making against Jesus to offer some explanation for his powerful deeds to help people, made no sense.  Why would Satan empower anyone to cast his demons out of people they had been afflicting for years?  Jesus answer demonstrated the extreme foolishness of the charges.

But the principle he laid down in that answer reached far beyond the challenge he was then facing.  His point about a kingdom or family or even a city divided against itself not being able to stand is extremely powerful and desperately needed.

We live in a time when division in the country has reached levels that most likely have not been seen since the civil war.  It has moved far beyond the point of people having different beliefs and ways of looking at things to the notion that if you don’t see things the way I do, I don’t want to have anything to do with you and I question your character.  When political leaders call for mistreatment of those who differ from them it sets up situations where some person with mental or emotional challenges thinks they are doing the right thing when they try to destroy the ones on the other side.  This mentality causes us to spread the divide further and further so that there is no dialog between the ones on different sides and thus no possibility of learning, growing or changing what we believe.  This leads to anarchy rather than the building of a great nation.  It can only change as we, individually, personally and intentionally are willing to extend our friendships to people who don’t see things the same way we do and are willing to listen to others as well.  I’ve never seen two groups standing and shouting at each other to change anyone’s mind about anything.

But a divided kingdom isn’t just a national problem.  Too often the household or family stands as a divided as the nation.  It is clear from the beginning that God’s intent for marriage was that two people become one flesh.  This deals with more than just getting together sexually.  Marriage is meant to be a place of oneness, unity, coming together and working together for the good of the whole family.  A house or family divided against itself cannot stand.  When you see husbands or wives that can’t see anything good in their partner and are constantly putting them down for everything, you know that the whole family is in deep trouble.  Marriage problems never stop in the marriage but bleed through the whole family with the children often taking the brunt of the division.  Too often then the parents go away wondering what happened to their children without having the judgment to look at their own actions to see the problem.  Unity doesn’t mean agreeing about everything.  It means working together, listening to each other, building each other up and trying to come together instead of pushing each other further apart.  Too often we read the statement of God in Malachi 2 about God hating divorce and fail to see the reasons given that it brought tears and broken hearts to the altar and children that were intended to be brought to God in the relationship are driven further away from him instead.  If we can’t find unity in the home it is impossible to find it in the nation or workplace.

Finally, the point of a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand must be applied to the church.  Jesus prayed for unity among his followers in John 17:20-21 so that the world might believe that God sent him.  Unity brings faith but division brings unbelief.  Division at church is so common that we tend to accept it as necessary and even try to defend our actions as some effort to stand for the truth.  I’ve known tons of churches to divide or groups of people to leave for one reason or another.  Almost without fail the reason given will be some doctrinal difference.  But in almost every case it wasn’t the doctrine that drove people away but personal problems or failures to get along with others and the doctrinal differences are simply used as an excuse to make us feel better.  Again, as in the home or country, unity at church doesn’t demand we agree about everything.  It demands we love each other and treat each other with respect, being able to disagree on something without challenging the integrity of those who see things differently.  Honest people often reach different conclusions.  But most of the time people in church are still in agreement about the fundamentals of the faith.  The differences normally are found in areas of judgment and things about which the Bible’s message isn’t particularly clear.  Unity matters and is worth fighting for in the nation, in the home and in the church.  

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DEVOTED TO PRAYER

We’ve been looking at the things the first church Jesus established devoted themselves to after they had believed in Jesus as the Son of God, turned from their sins to God in repentance and were baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.  God gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them for the rest of their lives on earth.  Then it says, they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to breaking of bread and to prayer.  The fact these new Christians devoted themselves to these four things certainly indicates that these are all very important parts of living as God wants us to live.  It wasn’t just that they made a point to do these each Sunday when they worshiped together.  The idea of being devoted to each of these indicates the tremendous value they placed on each.  It is obvious they recognized that these four things are vital to our pleasing God want walking with Christ in our daily lives.

Focus on the matter of prayer.  The other three things on the list refers to things they would do together.  But prayer is both a together activity for a Christian and a very private or personal aspect of faith.  Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount that when we pray we shouldn’t go out in the crowd and pray in a way that is meant  to show the world our devotion to God.  Instead he said if we did these things before people to be seen by them, we already have our reward.  But enter into a private place and pray between you and God alone and the God who hears in secret will reward you.

If we took that to mean that we shouldn’t have public or corporate prayers as a church or even as a family, we would miss the point by several miles.  Jesus prayed in public on different occasions and is pictured in Luke 9 as praying privately in the midst of a crowd of people.  The church that was launched on this occasion in Acts 2 prayed publicly when they had difficult situations to deal with such as when Peter and John were arrested for healing the cripple man at the gates to the temple.  They prayed for God to give them more boldness so they could speak his word with boldness before the world.  Prayer, like every other part of living for God, can become a ritual, a habit that requires little thought or heart.  It is easy to fall into the habit of praying at the same times each day and saying most of the same things, praying for the same people day after day.  Our prayers should rise out of our hearts and our personal devotion to God.  Paul gives a strong hint as to the nature of our prayers when he described how as new children of God we receive the Holy Spirit as a gift from God and we cry out to Him, Abba Father.  Abba was the Hebrew word that a child used in speaking intimately to his dad.  It is comparable to our talking to our Daddy.  If someone ask me who my father was, I quickly tell them about the man I called Dad as long as he lived on this earth.  I can’t imagine going up to my dad and calling him “Father”.  It would likely leave the impression that this is a very formal relationship.  But God wants us to come to him as our Abba or dad.

What kinds of things do you pray about?  It is certainly easy to get into a rut and pray the same prayer over and over again.  But prayer should rise from our heart and the challenges, fears, concerns and joys we experience each day.  It should be full of the names of people for which we thank and praise God.  But it should also be filled with gratitude for all the ways God has blessed us in the last few days.  Our prayers should be for the rulers and authorities in the land and for leaders in the church where we worship God.  But prayer is also about request that we make for God to bring into our life the blessings and opportunities He alone gives, so that we might do good and lead others to him. In Acts 4:25-31 Peter and John had been released after being beaten for their good work in healing the cripple man.  The church prayed fervently for Peter and John, but they prayed for the whole church that God would give them great boldness.  They asked God to “Stretch our your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of you holy servant Jesus.”  God was so moved by their prayer that the place where they were meeting was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.  It is absolutely amazing as you read the writings of Paul and his request for prayers from different churches that it usually will center on God giving him more boldness in preaching the word of the Lord.  Think about it.  How long has it been since you heard anyone in church pray for more boldness?  I hear lots of prayers for healing and comfort for the hurting and that’s good.  But I would plead with us to include boldness in the number of things we ask God for today.

Why did they pray for boldness?  They knew persecution was coming to them right away.  They knew the world was in desperate need of the gospel message they had from God.  They knew that often the very ones who needed the message of Jesus most were often the ones who wanted it least and would even turn on them for telling them God’s truth.

Obviously we need to pray in times of hurt that God will bring blessings into our lives to heal and solve the hurts we struggle with. We need to pray when things are going great as well in thanksgiving and for open doors to spread the message of faith and reconciliation to the world.  As years pass it is amazing that when you pray there are lots of people you want to pray for because of all the trouble and sickness they are facing.  But I must not become so focused on those who are hurting that I lose sight of the marvelous blessings from God that come to us daily.

It is interesting to me how public prayers have changed in church through the years.  I remember the day when just about every person who led a prayer prayed for the preacher, for the elders and the spread of the gospel through the world.  But I don’t hear that prayer often anymore.  Maybe it is circumstances and size the makes the difference but I remember when prayers were very personal and people prayed for family, friends, and fellow Christians by name to help them with the struggles of life.  It seems we become more generic in our prayers as time moves on.

I would strongly suggest to everyone that we spend some personal time reading the prayers of Jesus from the model prayer to his prayer in John 17 and that we read the prayers of Paul in his letters to different churches, especially read Ephesians 1:15-22 and 3:14-21.  I love his prayer in Philippians 1:9-11 so much I want to use it as my prayer for you as you read today.  “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”

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DEVOTED TO BREAKING BREAD

The first church ever, came into being with a great beginning and a growing heart.  In the second chapter of Acts Luke described this great beginning as 3,000 people heard the message Peter preached and were cut to the heart by what he said.  They readily turned from their sins to the Lord and were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and were blessed by God with the gift of the Holy Spirit.  But their growth was just beginning. The Lord was adding to their number every day as they were praising God and having favor with all the people.  The event was powerful and I suspect the people there on that Pentecost after Jesus died on the cross, likely never stopped talking about what they saw and heard on that day.  But the event was only part of the story.  It was what continued after that day that led to the massive growth of the church.  

Those 3,000 people who were baptized devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to breaking of bread and to prayers.  That devotion and dedication to living for God was behind the growth that just kept developing with every chapter in the Book of Acts.  We’ve looked at the devotion to the apostles teaching and to fellowship..  Now let’s focus on being devoted to the breaking of bread.

This phrase is used in two different ways both in this context and in the remainder of the Book of Acts.  Sometimes it is used to refer to the taking of the Lord’s Supper as the Christians gathered to commune together in remembrance of what Jesus did for them on the cross.  Jesus had instituted this communion on the last supper before his crucifixion with his disciples. He told them to take the bread in remembrance of his broken body on the cross and to take the cup which is the New Testament in my blood, in remembrance of the blood that he shed for the forgiveness of sins.  The fact Luke said the church in Troas came together on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7) indicates it was so important in the life of the early church that they saw the communion as the primary purpose of their gathering.  But this phrase is also used to refer to the gathering of people to share a meal together.  Later in Acts 2:46 it says, “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.”  Even in the Acts 20 story of the church at Troas gathering to break bread, it goes on to tell of them breaking bread the next morning before Paul left them to go on to Jerusalem.  So, when the phrase, “breaking bread” is used in the New Testament you have an immediate decision to make.  Is it talking about breaking bread in the sense of taking the Lord’s Supper or Communion or is it simply talking about Christians getting together to share a meal, likely in someone’s home.

While different writers have seen it in very different ways, some thinking that every time it is referring to the Lord’s Supper and others that every time it is talking about sharing a meal together, it seems more likely to me that in both these context he uses the same phrase in two different ways.  The first use is with regard to the Lord’s Supper and the second use in both text, it seems to me, refers to the sharing of a meal together.  If that is true, and I believe it is, then what they were devoted to wasn’t just people getting together to share a meal, but the church gathering to take of the Lord’s Supper as a part of their worship to God.

During the first century it became common for churches as they gathered, primarily in homes, to have a common meal they called a love feasts during which they would also take of the Lord’s Supper together.  So, it was certainly easy in that time for there to be confusion on the whole matter.  As time went by the common meal became more and more corrupted to the degree that it was dropped as part of the early church’s gathering time.  In I Corinthians 11:17ff Paul described how the meal had been corrupted with some eating too much and others drinking too much.  Efforts were being made to exclude those who were poor from their meal.  The whole concept of fellowship and communion was being lost, so he had to remind them of the purpose and goal of worship was built on love, sharing and focusing on Jesus and his death for us on the cross.

But, why is it important to be devoted to breaking the bread and sharing the cup of communion as a church?  One of the primary purposes is to keep the focus of our gathering as Christians on Jesus and the price He paid for our redemption and forgiveness.  In I Corinthians 11 Paul described the four directions of communion every time we participate in it.  It has to do with a look backward to see the price Jesus paid on the cross so we can be forgiven by the Lord.  It also involves a look upward to Jesus in that we are communing with Him and with each other as we worship him.  We are there to glorify His name and to build each other up.   Paul said we were to take of this communion until the Lord comes again.  So, we are also looking up to him for his return in glory one of these days. Third we are to look inward.  Paul said for us to examine ourselves and then eat of the bread to make certain we aren’t eating in an unworthy manner bringing on us condemnation.  Finally we are to look outward at the body of Christ we are a part of.  We need to see His body on the cross, but discerning the Lord’s body more likely refers to the spiritual body or the church and that we are to consider each other and the unity of the body as we commune with Jesus.

In our time there have been several mistaken ideas about the communion that was never in the thinking of the early church.  Some have tried to make aspects of the communion just for some exclusive group such as the clergy, but it was for the whole body of believers as they took of it and remembered Jesus love for them.  Some have argued that when we take of the bread and cup they literally become the body and blood of Jesus.  But the very use of the phrase “breaking of bread” denies that idea.  It is bread when we break it and when we take of it.  It symbolizes the broken body of Jesus but doesn’t become it.  Likewise the cup is still the fruit of the vine when we drink of it.  The fact Paul accused the people of Corinth of drinking so much that some of them became drunk demonstrates that it was wine and was fermented at the time.  It is done in remembrance of his death for us, not that we are literally eating the flesh and blood of Jesus.

Others have made the mistake of thinking that Paul’s admonition for us to examine ourselves so that we won’t eat or drink in an unworthy manner means that we must somehow be worthy to take of the communion.  The result is that hardly anyone ever feels qualified to commune.  It wasn’t the idea of our being worthy, but of us taking in a worthy manner, so we were thinking about other people instead of just ourselves.  The very word communion, which comes from the same word as “fellowship” demands it be something that people share in doing.  It is done in the gathering of the church to share in the meal and the memory of our Savior and Lord and the price he paid for our redemption in Christ.  While communion was a part of the gathering of Christians, it was not the only reason for their gathering.  Notice even in our text it is tied to the apostles teaching, fellowship and prayers.

Jesus chose two simple elements that would be available for all people to be able to commune with him.  He used the word “bread” to describe the one part of the communion.  We tend to use unleavened bread because that would have been what he used since the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus on Passover.  But he didn’t use a word that demanded any particular kind of bread to be used.  Also, the word he used for the fruit of the vine didn’t demand either fermented or unfermented drink, it simply demands that it be the fruit of the vine.  I don’t doubt that Jesus used grape juice that may well have been fermented to some degree.  Obviously what was being used in Corinth was fermented since some were leaving drunk.  But the word used by Jesus just demands the use of fruit of the vine.  

It isn’t the elements or the timing that is so significant, but the purpose that we remember what Jesus did for us to be saved, that we think about each other and that we focus on our own way of participating and that we remember Jesus is coming again.  It is vital that we be devoted to the communion with Jesus and with other followers of Jesus.

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