United in Grace

Click here to read Acts 15:1-35.

Unless you…

Believe, belong, accept, perform, think, dress like, etc.

We have all been part of this kind of thinking at some point in our lives. Maybe we have said this to another person to make sure they were the “right material” for the group, the club, the organization. Maybe we have heard these stipulations given to us. What is the first thing that comes to mind when stipulations are placed on others for the sake of making them conform?

Part of the reason we create these “rules” is because we are more comfortable being around people just like us. We would rather have everyone in the group agree with us. No one likes to be called out for being “wrong.” (I know I don’t.) But can we be missing something when we try to force people to conform to a certain way of thinking, to be a certain kind of person?

The early Church had this same kind of issue. There were people who were nervous, including some of the apostles, for Gentiles (non-Jewish people) to become followers of Jesus Christ. After all, the people of the Jewish faith had to go through rigorous training, knowledge, liturgies as part of their faith. Jesus was raised as a Jewish person. So why not make everyone follow the Jewish law and then give them the opportunity to follow and believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?

Why not? Because grace has something more amazing in store for the world. I want to add, this does not mean, or say, that creating liturgies, ways of learning, or any training to deepen our faith is bad or wrong. It just means that we do not have to go through all of that BEFORE experiencing God’s grace. Throughout scripture, we see the image of God reaching out to the world. God reaching out to the poor, the outcasts, the sick, the dead, the rich, everyone. He makes no qualms about the way people grew up and lived their lives. He met them exactly where they were.

Here’s the kicker to all of this. Just because God meets people where they were/are in life, it doesn’t mean he desires them to keep living that way. It is through His grace, His unmerited favor, that He gives us a new life, a new purpose, a new heart, a new mind. He knows what He created us to be. As for the laws the Jewish people lived by, He did not abolish them; but God did work in the hearts of the Christian leaders, the apostles, to say no one should have any barriers to coming to faith in God through Jesus Christ.

When Jesus died on the cross, the temple curtains were torn in two, the direct path to God was now available to ALL people, not just the High Priests or the Temple Priests. This is great news! You and I get to enter into eternal life, living in the presence of God, here and now. The only barriers to not living into this grace are those we place on ourselves.

No, you and I are not good enough, nor can we do enough to earn God’s grace. That is why His grace is a FREE gift to ALL people. The apostles and early church leaders learned this, and they became united with God in the sharing of His grace in a new way. We are given opportunities to experience and share His love and grace each and everyday.

Community

Click here to read Acts 2:42-47.

Imagine Utopia, a perfect place were there is no conflict and everyone has what they need. Sounds like a great place? John Lennon thought of how the world would be different if we simply “Imagine”[d] doing things out of love rather than doing things out of self-preservation; but doing things for the betterment of society. That song has some good concepts in it; but it also takes away religion and faith and when a community is living out their faith, much good does come from it.

John Wesley was a genius at placing people into small groups to help foster spiritual growth with the new converts. He did this in a way so they could worship, develop relationships, and get accountable with how their life was being lived. We see the model he used as a similar model from how the early Church took care of believers spiritual needs. This is a perfect example to show how we need each other to grow in our faith. Individuals grow more spiritually when connected into a community fostering encouragement, empowerment, and growth through God’s grace.

Take some time to re-read the passage today.

42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.

What is one thing that stands out to you? Why? One thing that stands out to me is “the believers devoted themselves…” So one question that brings up for me to ask is, “how devoted are you? How devoted am I?” This is an important question; but we should be careful not to think that if we do all of this “stuff” for God then we are good and stay in his graces and earn salvation. No. This kind of life that is described and lived out is not to earn grace or salvation; rather it is a response to God’s free gift of grace.

So, as the believers devoted themselves, they took time to study the scriptures together, pray as a group, be in fellowship with each other. Unity within a community does not mean that everyone does the same exact thing the same exact way. Unity means that we all unite for a common purpose and goal in order to live together peacefully.

So imagine a world where we devoted ourselves (as a response to God’s grace) to the studying of scripture, meeting together (not just on Sunday mornings); how much would we see the mighty and awe-filled acts of God in our midst because we’re open to them? Be prepared for the work of God in our midst and just see how people flock to a community true to their faith and devoted to God in all aspects of their life.

What does this kind of life look like for you?

Let’s pray for revival and God’s presence to be known all around us so others know and experience the Kingdom of Heaven.

Body Builders

IMG_0275

Ephesians 4:11-16  He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part. 

I have read this passage many times and each time I have read it, for some reason, I have always thought it said that it was the pastor, prophet, evangelist, teacher’s job to build up the body of Christ. Then one day I was reading this again and I noticed that the verse really says that it is Christ’s purpose to equip God’s people to serve and build up the body of Christ. So, as I am reading this, I am reminded that it is Christ who does the filling of our spirit; and it is through the filling of our spirit that we are equipped to build the body of Christ, the church.

As we are working with Christ to build up the church, we are also working o help people develop and mature in their faith. If someone were to ask you, “how are you in your faith with Jesus Christ?”, what would you say? Would you and I be able to show growth from the past to now? How about from last year to this year? How about from yesterday to today? We should always be on a path that will help us grow in our faith and come to know Christ on a more intimate level so our relationship with God becomes more real and more central in our lives.

How can we grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ and move towards maturity in the faith? It starts with Christ, himself. We have to be willing to spend time with him in order for him to fill our spirit. This means incorporating spiritual disciplines, means of grace, in our daily lives. Now, we should not do these because we want something from God. We should start, or continue, spiritual disciplines in order to learn more about God and allow the time to change us.

This is how unity can begin because we are interested in loving God and loving people; all of the other things that seem differentiate us can actually be seen as compliments and also help us remember that each person has a part to play within the body of Jesus Christ. This kind of mindset could help us establish deeper relationships with people. As each person grows stronger in their walk with Christ, the body of Christ actually becomes stronger and healthier. Working out of love builds up the church and each person is empowered to live into the gifts they have been given and to do the part that God desires them to play.

All of this is possible because of Jesus Christ.

#TheGospelChangesUs