What Is The Church Supposed To Look Like?

If someone asked you what a church is supposed to look like, do you describe steeples and crosses, stained glass windows and big wooden pulpits?

Guess what? The first Church in Jerusalem had none of those things!

Luke the historian describes the church this way: “They studied and prayed together, they ate with each other, they fed the hungry, and they took care of the poor. God performed miracles through them, everyone thought well of them, and people were getting saved every single day” (see Acts 2:42-47). Other historians of the day noted that Christians started the first orphanages, the first feeding programs, the first homes/schools for the blind, and the first medical dispensaries. They described how the Christians changed the cultural understanding of marriage and family, and how they gave dignity to women, children, the elderly, and the sick. 

They did this by putting their faith into action, just as Jesus described (see Matthew 25:31-40). James reminds us that this required a deeply personal faith and a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude. In fact, James went so far as to say that faith in Jesus wasn’t enough. 

Faith without works is dead. Works without faith is useless. We must believe it and live it. We need both faith and works.

Everyone can do this… 

  • if a young kid is hungry, get involved with feeding them
  • if an elderly lady in your neighborhood needs a friend, stop by for coffee
  • if a neighbor is sick and can’t cover their usual tasks, mow their lawn 
  • if a high school student can’t go to homecoming because she can’t afford the dress, take her shopping and buy the dress for her
  • if someone has an extended hospital stay, collect their mail and water their plants
  • if no one is visiting them in the hospital, go sit with them for a while

Jesus said, “When you do this for others, you are really doing it for Me.” 

Luke didn’t say, “Every day the Christians were preaching.” He says, “Every day the Christians were serving. And then every day God was adding to their number people who were being saved.” 

Your faith in action speaks a sermon louder and more convincingly than any sermon ever could. 

How will you show your neighbors the love of Jesus this week?

A Minor Introduction

The minor prophets in the Bible are pretty cool! But we have to be careful with man-made titles. For example, the “old” in Old Testament doesn’t mean outdated; nor does the “new” in New Testament mean something updated to modern times. 

In the same way, the minor prophets are only called “minor” because of the volume of their writing, not the quality of their message. In fact, their messages are actually quite major! 

The minor prophets cover a span of about 300 years, from 760 BC (Amos) to 450 BC (Malachi). You can check out this side-by-side chart to see where these prophets fit in the history of Judah and Israel. 

Here are some interesting tidbits about the minor prophets:

  • In the Hebrew Bible, these books are referred to simply as “The Twelve.” 
  • All of these prophets identify themselves in the first verse of their writing except Jonah, but he is identified in 2 Kings 14:23-25. 
  • The only others of the Twelve that are mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament are Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Zechariah (see Jeremiah 26:16-19; 2 Kings 25:18-21; Ezra 5:1). 
  • The prophets consistently give us some historical context in their writings to help us place when, where, and to whom their ministry took place. 

The Twelve also show up quite liberally in the New Testament. Every one of them has either direct quotations or has their writings implicitly referred to throughout the New Testament. Here’s just a small sampling… 

  • Micah 5:2 tells us where Jesus would be born (Matthew 2:6)
  • Hosea 11:1 says Jesus would spend time in Egypt (Matthew 2:15)
  • Malachi 4:5 says an “Elijah” would precede Jesus (Matthew 17:10-11)
  • Zechariah 9:9 foretells Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-10)
  • Jonah 1:17 was used by Jesus to predict His own resurrection (Matthew 12:39-42)
  • Joel 2:28-32 was quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21)
  • Amos 9:11-12 foretold all peoples coming to Jesus (Acts 15:16-17)
  • Hosea 13:14 was quoted by Paul to show how death was defeated (1 Corinthians 15:53-57)
  • Habakkuk 2:4 was also quoted by Paul to tell how righteous people live (Galatians 3:11)
  • Haggai 2:6 foretells the end times (Hebrews 12:26-29)

I look forward to diving deep into the major lessons in the minor prophets over the next several weeks, but in preparation for that let me give you 3 overarching lessons for all Bible studies:

  1. Christianity is rooted in history. The Bible is a historical record of real people, saying and doing real things in real places in the world. It’s not a collection of fables, myths, or legends. 
  2. We need to study the whole counsel of God’s Word. All of Scripture is interdependent on all the other parts of Scripture, and every part reinforces and amplifies every other part. Don’t limit your Bible reading to just one or two parts.
  3. Looking back in wonder and gratitude builds faith for today and hope for tomorrow. When we see what God has done in the past, and we realize that He is still the same God today, it builds our faith for today. And when our faith today is strengthened, it gives us a bright hope for tomorrow. 

I look forward to having you join me on this journey of discovery through the minor prophets! 

Not How But Who

This is part 3 in our series looking at phrases that sound biblical and then asking, “Is that in the Bible?

Statement #3—This is how you should take Communion.… Is that in the Bible? Quite simply: No, it’s not. 

Every church seems to celebrate Communion with its own unique style, typically following an age-old tradition. There’s nothing wrong with traditions per se. The only thing we have to watch out for is when traditions become the focal point, instead of the thing the tradition is pointing us to. Almost as if we are celebrating the celebration (see Isaiah 1:11-14; Mark 7:1-8). 

In 1054 AD the Great Schism occurred between the Roman church (in West) and the Byzantine church (in East). One issue that led to this schism was Communion. The West used unleavened bread, saying that sin was removed. The East said that sounded like they were adopting Judaism, so they used leavened bread, saying that the “rising” symbolized new life. 

Even today there are differences and disagreements—only administered by a priest … only certain church officials can “bless” the elements … a common cup … individual cups … unfermented juice … fermented wine … unleavened wafers … pieces torn off a full loaf of bread. The Bible never says about Communion, “Do it this way.” All of these are man’s traditions. 

Passover was first instituted in Exodus 13. This is before the Law is given through Moses (Exodus 20) and before the instructions for the tabernacle are given (Exodus 25). In the first version, the sacrifice of the lamb was in individual homes, the lamb’s blood was shed on the doorposts of that home, and the family ate the lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs together at home. 

After the tabernacle was operational, there was a change (Deuteronomy 16). Now the sacrifice of the lamb was in the tabernacle, the lamb’s blood was sprinkled on the altar, but the family still ate the lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs together at home. 

By the time of Jesus, there were newer traditions which weren’t prescribed in the Bible that involved as many as five cups of wine, a very specific order that the meal was presented, and the singing of Psalm 113-118 (sometimes people sang all the way through Psalm 138). 

In the last supper Jesus shares with His disciples, we see some of these later elements. We read about the different cups of wine, the unleavened bread, the supper of lamb, and the singing of a hymn (Luke 22:14-20; Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). 

I want to specifically focus on the second cup of wine Jesus used in this supper. Paul calls this cup the cup of thanksgiving and the cup of the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:16, 21). Why? Because Jesus switched cups with us! 

The Bible tells us that we have all sinned, and therefore we are supposed to drink the cup of God’s wrath—For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup of His wrath, and the wine foams and is red, well mixed; and He pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth must drain it and drink its dregs (Psalm 75:8 AMP). 

But Jesus switched cups with us. He took the full wrath of God upon Himself, and then gave us God’s new covenant of forgiveness—“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant…. This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. … For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 33:31-34). 

Jesus said, “When you drink this, do this in remembrance of Me.” THIS is what we’re called remember and celebrate! 

It’s not HOW we celebrate Communion but WHO we remember when we do celebrate. 

Let’s not celebrate the celebration, but let’s celebrate the Savior who paid the price so that we could celebrate the forgiveness of our sins under God’s new covenant! 

3 Lessons From A Devoted Dad

If you were to pick a man that would have been desperately devoted to Jesus as his Savior, Cornelius wouldn’t make anyone’s “top 10” list! 

Just take a look at all the strikes against this man. He was a… 

  • Gentile—to Jews, Gentiles were just the fuel to stoke the fires of hell. 
  • resident of the city of Caesarea—since this was the headquarters of the Roman government for Palestine, not many Jews would venture there. 
  • Roman—historians say only 10% of Romans in this era were monotheistic. 
  • centurion—not just any centurion, but an extremely powerful centurion from the Italian Regiment (not just a local mercenary who was in it for the money). And he took his name from Cornelius Sulla, a Roman general known both for his mercy and his ruthlessness.

All of this makes Cornelius a fully self-sufficient and a well-to-do man who was not likely to look for help from God. Nor was he the type of person that a Christian missionary might seek out. 

But clearly, something was missing in Cornelius’ life because he was completely countercultural in his pursuit after God. Not just his pursuit of God, but his quick understanding of exactly who Jesus was. 

Luke the historian describes Cornelius as:

  • devout and God-fearing. The Greek word for devout literally means “a right worshipper.” It’s a word Luke only uses three times in Acts, and two of those times are describing Cornelius. 
  • prayerful. The word Luke uses for him means someone who makes prayer personal and ongoing. 
  • generous. Cornelius took care of people who couldn’t take care of themselves. 

All of this got God’s attention (see Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Proverbs 19:17), and He sent an angel to direct Cornelius to Peter. 

When Peter came to Cornelius’ house, twice he said “as you know” (vv. 36, 37), showing us that Cornelius was aware that there was not only one true God, but that a relationship with Jesus was the only way to be in right relationship with God. As Peter spoke with Cornelius, his family, his relatives, his close friends, and even his fellow soldiers, the Holy Spirit baptized them just as He had done with the disciples of Jesus on the day of Pentecost. 

So here are 3 vital lessons for all men to learn from the life of Cornelius the centurion—

  1. Your devotion to God is influential. People around you do notice your devoted pursuit of God.
  2. Your openness to all that God has puts your family, friends, and coworkers in a place to receive God’s blessings too.
  3. God’s blessings flowing through you have lasting and far-reaching results. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius may have opened the door for Christian evangelism to Gentiles unlike anything that had happened before.

Dads, be devoted to God. Desire all He has for you, and all He has for those around you. Pursue Him no matter how many “strikes” there may be against you. 

Be sure to check out the other messages in our series We Are: Pentecostal.

A Chronology Of The Life Of Paul

The Apostle Paul is a fascinating figure that looms so large across the New Testament and beyond.

I recently came across these amazingly helpful study tools to put the life of Paul into perspective. These are both from the Faithlife Illustrated Study Bible, which I highly recommend to you for adding a new depth to your Bible study time.

This is an illustrated timeline of the key dates and events of Paul’s life. Click on the graphic to view it better, or check it out on the Biblia website.

If you would like to research both the biblical texts and the attestations of Paul’s ministry outside of the New Testament, you may want to download this PDF chart → Apostle Paul Chronology

And it’s worth repeating: get a copy of the Faithlife Illustrated Study Bible for yourself as soon as you can!

Passion Timeline

As we approach Christ’s Passion Week, I think it’s a good time to slow down and remember all of the events that took place during a very short time. 

The Faithlife Illustrated Study Bible has an excellent infographic on the timeline of these events. You can click on the image above to access a larger view, or you can check it out on the website. 

I also invite you to join me at Calvary Assembly of God as we are taking a slow walk on Christ’s Passionate Journey toward the Cross and the empty tomb. We’re spending one week looking at each of the 8 days of His Passion Week. If you cannot join us in person, please check out our Facebook Live broadcast.

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (book review)

Taking a journey with a tour guide who knows the terrain and the customs is always so much more rewarding than simply following the directions of some far-removed travel agent. In journeying through the four Gospels of the New Testament, a premier tour guide is close by in Kenneth Bailey and his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. 

All of us bring our own paradigms with us wherever we go. There is a certain way we see the world, and everything gets processed through those lenses. My natural bias, when I pick up the New Testament is to read it through my lenses of a 21st-century American. But Jesus lived in a specific time and place in world history. He lived as a Jewish man in Israel during the time the Roman Empire held sway over world affairs. 

If I try to read about a 1st-century Eastern world through 21st-century Western eyes, I will be missing so much of the richness. Kenneth Bailey lived and taught and was immersed in the middle eastern culture for decades. So with his western understandings and middle-eastern insights, he treats us to vistas of Scripture that I hadn’t seen before. 

Bailey is a first-rate scholar, but by no means is this book an academic study. On the contrary, Bailey’s scholarship will make the accounts of the life of Jesus come to life before your eyes! You will be noticing nuances and insights that you probably missed in all your previous readings. 

If you want to experience the Gospels in a new, exciting way, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you take Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes along with you for the journey! 

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