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?

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! 

8 Prayers From “Dangerous Prayers”

Dangerous Prayers give a brief biography of 50 culture-shifting people, and the world-changing prayers they prayed. Check out my full book review by clicking here, and then enjoy just a few of the prayers from this excellent book. 

“Listen to my supplication, Master, so that my soul doesn’t stagger under Your instruction, so that I don’t stumble in testifying to Your mercies, by which You tore me away from all my ruinous pathways. Thus You’ll grow sweet to me beyond all that led me wrong, in my willingness to follow it. Thus I’ll love You most mightily, and grasp Your hand with all the strength of my inmost being. Thus You’ll tear me away from every trial, clear to the end.” —Augustine 

“Restore me to liberty, and enable me so to live now that I may answer before Thee and before the world. Lord, whatever this day may bring, may Thy name be praised. Amen.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while awaiting execution in a Nazi concentration camp 

“Give us grace, O God, to dare to do the deed which we well know cries to be done. Let us not hesitate because of ease, or the words of men’s mouths, or our own lives. Mighty causes are calling us—the freeing of women, the training of children, the putting down of hate and murder and poverty—all these and more. But they call with voices that mean work and sacrifice and death. Mercifully grant us, O God, the spirit of Esther, that we may say: ‘I will go unto the king and if I perish, I perish.’” —W.E.B. DuBois 

“Because we have need continually to crave many things at Your hands, we humbly beg You, O heavenly Father, to grant us Your Holy Spirit to direct our petitions, that they may proceed from such a fervent mind as may be agreeable to Your holy will.” —John Knox 

“O keep us, we beseech Thee, Lord, for without Thy keeping we cannot keep ourselves.” —Charles Spurgeon 

“Oh Jesus, You who suffer, grant that today and every day I may be able to see You in the person of Your sick ones and that, by offering them my care, I may serve You. Grant that, even if You are hidden under the unattractive disguise of anger, of crime, or of madness, I may recognize You and say, ‘Jesus, You who suffer, how sweet it is to serve You.’” —Mother Teresa 

“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in His holy protection, that He would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that He would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble invitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.” —George Washington 

“God give me a deep humility, a well-guided zeal, a burning love, and a single eye, and then let men or devils do their worst.” —George Whitefield 

Dangerous Prayers (book review)

Prayer changes things. That makes prayer dangerous and the pray-ers themselves a danger to anything that opposes the kingdom of God. Dangerous Prayers is a collection of powerful prayers and a brief biography of those who prayed them. 

Growing up, a constant refrain rang in my ears from my parents whenever I faced a problem: “Have you prayed about it?” I’m not sure why we make prayer our last resort instead of our first response, but it often seems that some of the most heartfelt, passionate prayers are offered up in the darkest of times. 

Dangerous Prayers offers a short biography of some world-changing people who changed the world in large part because of their desperate dependence on God’s help, as seen in the frequent and bold prayers they prayed. Many of these prayers were prayed in dark places—prisons, before the executioner, in the midst of war, in unimaginable poverty, or staring down the evils of slavery. These men and women repeatedly turned to God, and God repeatedly strengthened them to accomplish amazing things. Some of the answers to prayer came in their lifetimes, and some prayers were only answered long after they had died. 

Dangerous Prayers is an excellent coffee table book. By that, I mean it’s a great book to leave out in the open as a conversation-starter. Parents could read these short biographies and prayers with their children, and friends could use them as a bridge from past history to current events. But more than anything, keep Dangerous Prayers close at hand will—I sincerely hope—cause you to turn to prayer frequently and boldly. 

I am a Thomas Nelson book reviewer. 

Four Kings Of Kings

When C.S. Lewis first introduces us to the land of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, we discover that the White Witch has Narnia seemingly under her iron fist, and has made it so that it’s always winter but never Christmas. 

“Come on!” cried Mr. Beaver, who was almost dancing with delight. “Come and see! This is a nasty knock for the Witch! It looks as if her power is already crumbling. … Didn’t I tell you, that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well, just come and see!” 

And then they were all at the top and did see.

It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge set a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly-berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. … Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.” 

I think the Israelites waiting for their Messiah must have felt a little like the Narnians: always winter, but never Christmas; trapped under the iron-fisted rule of Babylon, and Persia, and Rome. 

But as they approached what we now call the year 1 AD, winter is about to end and the Advent of CHRISTmas is about to occur at long last! 

You might think that the birth of Jesus brought us the King of Kings. But actually, there were three other “king of kings” that preceded Jesus, who all helped to fulfill God’s ultimate plan. 

Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon. God called him “My servant” and also gave him the title king of kings (Jeremiah 27:6; Ezekiel 26:7). It was he who defeated Judah and took captives with him to Babylon. Among those captives was a young man named Daniel. 

God gave Daniel the ability to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream which foretold of three other kingdoms which would follow Babylon, with the fourth kingdom being called a kingdom of iron. History shows us that Babylon was defeated by the Medes, who were in turn defeated by the Persians, who were themselves defeated by the Greco-Romans. 

Artaxerxes was king of the Persians, and he called himself king of kings (Ezra 7:12). He helps to facilitate the Jews’ return back to Jerusalem, and even helped fund their efforts to rebuild the temple of Solomon and reestablish worship there. 

In 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated, and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir. Eventually, Octavius quelled a 20-year-long civil war and established himself as the unquestioned ruler of the Roman Empire. He changed his name to Caesar Augustus, which means the exalted one. But all throughout the Mediterranean world archeologists have discovered numerous other titles for Caesar Augustus—Divine, Son of God, God Incarnate, God from God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, Savior of the World, and King of Kings. 

Historian Luke records these words, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree” (Luke 2:1). This decree called everyone to return to his hometown to be registered in Rome’s census. This decree meant that Joseph was obligated to return to Bethlehem. He took his pregnant wife with him to arrive just in time for Jesus to be born. 

JesusTHE eternal and ultimate King of Kings—was born in Bethlehem just as had been prophesied 700 years earlier in the winter of Israel’s captivity: 

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, you are little to be among the clans of Judah; yet out of you shall One come forth for Me Who is to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth have been from of old, from ancient days (eternity). (Micah 5:2) 

The coming of THE King of Kings is proof that God sees you too. God brought the king of kings named Nebuchadnezzar, and Artaxerxes, and Caesar Augustus to power just to move two “average Joes” 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem so that THE King of Kings could be born there to fulfill the prophesy. 

God has a plan for your life. His plan for you was in place before you were even conceived in your mother’s womb. And—even this very moment—He is watching over world events to make sure that every detail of His plan is fulfilled (see Ephesians 2:10; Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 1:12)! 

If you ever feel like you are in a “winter” season of your life—always winter and never Christmas—just remember that God sees you, He has a plan for you, and He will bring an end to your winter just in time to bring you CHRISTmas!

10 Quotes + 1 Infographic From “Cold-Case Christianity”

Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace is educational in a number of ways. Not only will you learn more about police investigations and courtroom deliberations, but Christians and skeptics alike will learn about the reliability of the biblical account concerning Jesus. You can check out my full book review by clicking here. 

“The Christian tradition is actually intellectually robust and satisfying, even if we believers are occasionally unable to respond to your challenges. The answers are available; you don’t have to turn off your brain to be a believer. Yes, it is possible to become a Christian because of the evidence rather than in spite of the evidence.” 

“Faith is actually the opposite of unbelief, not reason. … The biblical definition of faith is a well-placed and reasonable inference based on evidence.” 

“What about cases that have no direct evidence connecting the suspect to the crime scene? Can the truth be proved beyond a reasonable doubt when all the evidence we have is circumstantial? Absolutely. 

“Jurors are instructed to make no qualitative distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence in a case. Judges tell jurors, ‘Both direct and circumstantial evidence are acceptable types of evidence to prove or disprove the elements of a charge, including intent and mental state and acts necessary to a conviction, and neither is necessarily more reliable than the other. Neither is entitled to any greater weight than the other.’” 

“William Dembski (the well-known mathematician, statistician, theologian, and intelligent-design advocate) has argued that specified complexity (and, therefore, the intervention of an intelligent agent) can be identified by using an ‘explanatory filter.’ If an object or event (1) cannot be explained by some natural law that necessitates its appearance, (2) exists in spite of the high improbability that it could occur as the result of chance, and (3) conforms to an independently existing and recognizable pattern, the most reasonable inference is that it is the product of an intelligent designer.” 

“The early church fathers and leaders recognized that the Gospels were the eyewitness testimony of the apostles, and they set the Gospels apart for this reason. The ancient Christian author Tertullian wrote in AD 212: ‘The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage—I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew—whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was’ (Against Marcion). 

“Skeptics cannot reject the reasonable inferences from the evidence we do have, simply because there may possibly be some evidence we don’t have; skeptics also need to defend their doubt evidentially.” 

“The reasonable inference from the circumstantial evidence is that the Gospels were written very early in history, at a time when the original eyewitnesses and gospel writers were still alive and could testify to what they had seen.” 

“Some have argued that the Gospels are late because none of the authors specifically identifies himself in the accounts. … BUT … The Gospels are not the only ancient documents that fail to identify the author within the text of the manuscripts. Tacitus (the Roman senator and historian who lived from AD 56 to AD 117) wrote a history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Augustus Caesar to Nero entitled Annals. Tacitus was, in fact, present during much of this period of time, but failed to include himself in any of his descriptions or identify himself as the author.” 

“While it is possible that the Gospels were not written by the traditional first-century authors and were given these attributions only much later in history, it is not evidentially reasonable. If skeptics were willing to give the Gospels the same ‘benefit of the doubt’ they are willing to give other ancient documents, the Gospels would easily pass the test of authorship.” 

“The most reasonable inference is that the gospel writers were present, corroborated, accurate, and unbiased. If this is the case, we can conclude with confidence that their testimony is reliable.” 

%d bloggers like this: