This week's Bible Study - October 30, 2016
Quotes of the Week:
Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.
Where do you feel loved the most? Cheers was a sitcom that ran from the early 80s to the early 90s. The story was based on characters who frequented a bar and their often comical daily life situations. Lyrics to the theme song talked about taking a break from all your worries and going to some place where everybody knows your name and everyone is glad you came, .
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.
I believe that the concept resonated with people, as many are looking for a place where they can fit in and find a friend (or friends). And, like the song and sitcom goes, many find that in a bar, drinking with others. There is some level of acceptance that can be found there for many, as generally people can be themselves.
Contrast that feeling with what people feel at church. I would imagine that there are a wide range of views that people have there. Some have been part of a church for years and years and they find their very best friends at the church. They would rather be with those people than with anyone else. Generally, they have the same core beliefs and feel very comfortable there. There are others, however, who feel very uncomfortable at church for a variety of reasons. They could be new to the area and find it hard to break into well defined groups. They could be long time attenders, but for whatever reason, have chosen not to get involved with others. I've seen that if people are not putting much into church, they will not get much out of it. It could be that they have had some problem and their sin got publicized and they feel ostracized, even years later. There are others who may not be believers and the whole concept may sound cultish to them.
This gets us, or at least me, thinking about what churches are like and what should they be like. Some churches are really focused on meeting their own needs and if others show up, that's fine, but it's not like they go out of the way to attract people. In some ways, these churches seem more like country clubs to the outsiders. There are other strong gospel preaching churches, with little focus on the internal church. Some churches are all about providing the requisite Sunday service and that is all. When Berkley and I were traveling this weekend, we saw a church sign that said "Faithful Families make Faithful Churches.", but we wondered if that would come across to people who had messed up or didn't feel 'good' enough that they were not welcome there? I am sure that was not the intent, but it gets you thinking, doesn't it?
There are so many things that a church needs to be and when the emphasis is placed too highly on one thing or the other, the church gets a bit off kilter. Certainly, the primary thing has to be the gospel. Ultimately, the church should share the gospel freely and often. However, there are a few other aspects that are also important, as outlined in this passage.
In the previous lesson, we learned about the unstoppable message, the gospel of Jesus Christ. In short, Jesus lived a perfect life, was put to death unjustly, rose from the dead, appeared to many and ascended up to heaven. Peter had shared the gospel clearly and it was accompanied by many signs and wonders. The response of many (about three thousand) was that they were cut to the heart and asked what they needed to do.
They were told to repent and turn to Jesus. In essence, they needed to acknowledge the truth of Jesus, put their belief in Him and confess their sins. Those who accepted their message were baptized and became believers. One question that comes to my mind was how anybody could have missed it. They saw the same things and heard the same words. This truly shows that the power comes internally from God and not necessarily from the situation. Today, you may hear a powerful speaker giving a very eloquent gospel presentation, yet many are not moved at all. Years ago, Billy Graham had a crusade in St Louis. There was preparation for that event many months prior. When the time came, I was astonished at the simplicity of his words. Yet, the response was overwhelming. I later heard that many people were praying when he was speaking, that God would move in his words and in the hearts of those who heard, and in reality, people had been praying for many months leading to the crusade. It is truly a God thing and we must always remember to be praying that God would work, even as we share our faith with others.
The people saw many great things happen. It was the type of thing that people would talk about for many days, weeks, months and years. It had to impact the folks that were present, but even the greatest thing begins to pale over time, if it's not fed. It's true in relationships that stagnate and eventually fall apart if not worked on. It's true in our memories of the great places we've been to that we forget over time. It's true for athletic skills that we may have once had, but we neglected to practice. The same for great movies that we see - or sermons we hear, etc. We need to nurture what we want to take root - and keep 'watering' it.
As these people identified with Christ, they identified with the family of believers. They were to be baptized, devoted to teaching and fellowship with others in the family, and to prayer. Before we get too far into this, have you ever considered how the influx of 3000 new believers would impact a church? Certainly, God was moving in their midst and they were enthusiastic. I would have to say that this would an administration nightmare today. Where would they park? Where would they sit? How in the world would they get involved? Seriously, a church would love this, but it could very well bring a church to a standstill. It sort of makes you wonder how we would respond if God were to work that way today.
One positive about new believers that have experienced a life change is that they generally are very enthusiastic. They want to devote themselves to something and are often more prepared than long time believers. Their lives have been dramatically altered and unfortunately many believers have become accustomed to the point where church becomes routine and ritualistic. We all would do well to be around new believers to relive that inner excitement.
In this passage, we get a big picture of the early church and a spirit filled community. We learn that they were devoted to the apostle's teaching and they were committed, eager learners. What is so important about believers being hungry to learn? Bible Studies have always been a passion of mine. I enjoy reading God's word and trying to make it applicable to those in my classes, but I realize that for some, Bible Study is like pulling teeth. One advantage they had is that they were taught by the apostles, who had authority as they had walked with Jesus. They could speak of Jesus' life and ministry, speaking of things He did. They could speak of Jesus' teaching and what He said. They could speak of the Old Testament, with which the Jews were familiar and share passages in light of Jesus. Do you see how their entire perspective could change, as they heard what they had once 'known', but in a whole new light? Are you devoted to the teaching of Bible Study in a church of believers?
We learn that they were devoted to fellowship. The word for fellowship is koinonia, which is intimate fellowship and having much in common. Today, there are many views about the life of the church and fellowship that are not very favorable. Some view the church antagonistically. They have the perception of the church as being judgmental, primarily in place to take political stances. They may see more hypocrisy in believers that spout the gospel, but treat others harshly. Some see the church as sheltered and backward. Some view the church as apathetic. In some cases, the church is little more than the place to show up once a week. People may find that they are better off on their own. However there are others who are strong advocates of fellowship. They realize that life is richer when they can share it with others who have similar beliefs. In these situations, people often help meet physical and material needs. In our own situation, we have seen many believers who have come to our aid due to my disease. Without a group of believers, help would have been much harder to find. When we realize how much we need one another at different times in life, we acknowledge some of the benefits of fellowship.
They were devoted to breaking of bread together. This is something that some churches do quite well, with having meals where people can gather. Often, you will find that you can get to know others quite well when you share meals together regularly. In many cases, but certainly not all, you may find it harder to harbor grudges when you eat with others.
They were devoted to prayer. I believe most of us know of the power of prayer, but I also believe that most do not pray as if we believe it. It was an important aspect for the apostles and the early church. Some churches have regular prayer services and others pray more spontaneously. Whether it is ceremony or spontaneous, the most important thing is that prayer happens. We often confuse the issue by thinking we are praying in regard to some greater work, when in reality, prayer is the bigger work.
As these people met together, they were filled with awe. There were many wonders and miraculous signs that occurred. Have these wonders dried up over time? You may think so, but when you get with other believers, you begin to see how God is working in the lives of so many people all the time. These people held everything in common. They sold possessions to help meet needs of others. This is a common theme in many passages, regarding the New Testament church. Are we seeing this happening in our churches today? The only way to meet the needs is to know the needs. Sometimes, people take these perks for granted. They assume that people will 'find out' when a need happens. I've heard of folks who got sick and went into a hospital, and got upset that nobody came to see them. Nobody knew until they were out. They were the type of people who went to church, but never tried to get to know anybody on a personal level.
As these people met, they ate together in their homes. There were glad to be part of each other's lives and they were sincere. They didn't go to church because they had to. They truly desired to spend time with one another. Are our churches like this today? What about your church - would you classify it as sincere? What about your role in your church - are you sincere?
As they met together and became part of each other's lives, their numbers began to increase. More and more people were added to their numbers as they drew closer to God and to one another. So many people are looking for a place to belong. I believe the rise of some sectors in our society has been based upon unconditional acceptance. People do want to be a part. We say this is our church, but so many of our churches are unapproachable. What about the people who walk past or drive past your church? Do they know they could be part of something bigger, or do they think that the church is a select club? Do our churches appear different than the other businesses we see? Do people know that they can find friends and a place to belong?
Since I have been diagnosed with ALS and began to lose weight, I have grown accustomed to a shake or DQ Blizzard nearly every day. They aren't the healthiest calories, but they are tasty calories. As much as I like these treats, they are more of a luxury or consolation prize (a pretty sorry one for having ALS). I don't really need them and I could get by without them. However, I still NEED bread and water. I see these like relationships, which are essential for our lives as believers. The place to find this is within a church of like-minded people. I can certainly find friends elsewhere, but if we want to stay connected with our faith, it would be at church.
As believers, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit in each of us. I have been amazed as I have been on several mission trips to different parts of the world to find the acceptance and love of so many believers in different cultures. There may be no other commonality, but the presence of the Spirit overshadows any difference. It's a shame that this can often be more closely felt on the other side of the world than between churches in the same community.
Are you devoted to teaching, either by being a Bible Study teacher or in a Bible Study class? Are you devoted to fellowship and belonging to a group of believers? Are you finding time to break bread with other believers? Are you devoted to prayer? On prayer, are you honest when you say you are praying for others? One of the greatest things you can do is to pray for someone and let them know you are praying for them. There is a bond that is formed as you pray and interact with others.
It won't be quite like Cheers, and everyone may not know your name, but you can develop deep, lasting friendships with other believers. It is our prayer for you that you are involved, or will be involved with a fellowship of believers.