Archive for June, 2008

Truth and the Early Church

June 30, 2008

Title: Truth and the Early Church


Text: Acts 5:1-11

Time: June 23rd, 2008

In our study of the Book of Acts we come to the strange tale of two Christians in the early first century church named Ananias and his wife Saphira. They are forever famous – or should I say, infamous – because they lost their lives over a lie. Evidently they claimed to sell a piece of property in their possession and give the entire proceeds of the sale to the church for distribution to the needy, but instead of giving all the money to the church for the needy, they in fact kept back some of the money all the while claiming to have given the entire amount for charity. This lie was exposed and the Apostle Peter confronted them with it, and in the process of dealing with them, they both dropped dead. It’s a strange account because it’s not exactly clear what actually happened. Did their deception become known through natural processes, like someone tipping off the church, or did God reveal to Peter that the two were lying? And how did they die, exactly? Did they drop dead of heart attics or were they killed directly by God Almighty? And then, a question that modern people might ask today in a free and democratic society: what’s the big deal? So these two claimed to give the whole amount to the church, but in reality they kept back a little for themselves? So, again, what’s the big deal? So they lied? Is lying the unforgivable sin? Even if they lied, was it that big of an issue for them to have to pay with their lives? In our pragmatic world of practical results, in our just-get-it-done business culture, one might reply that at least the church got a good donation, why make an issue of their keeping back some of the money? Yes, they did announce to the congregation that they were giving it all to the church, but maybe they changed their minds – that’s possible. What’s the big crime they committed? Why is it such a major issue that the lead apostle Peter himself has to intervene to confront the two? Why not leave well enough alone and thank God for the contribution they did make? Maybe there would be contributions forthcoming in the future by the same couple from the sale of other properties, why risk alienating them with a technicality? These and other responses are imaginable. Just what was the big concern of Peter and the rest of the church over the issue of Ananias and Saphira? It all boils down to one thing – truth. Remember, this was the very earliest stage of Christianity, this was at the very beginning of the Christian church. Being the foundation of the faith, any defect, any error, anything wrong or false, in attitude or action at this stage would set a precedent for the future. What Peter, the apostles, and the other Christians – and ultimately God himself – were saying with the whole incident with Ananias and Saphira was that truth, ultimate truth, matters. Getting doctrine right, getting moral behavior right, getting the church right is not only important but essential. We need to hear that message again, especially in our age where – like I said before – there is an attitude of, “Oh well, the ends justify the means, let’s not get technical about things.” God is saying to us today that at least in one place on earth, the church, truth must be taken absolutely serious. In the church, truth must be closely followed at all costs. Let’s explore this whole issue further. Acts 5:1-11 (read). (more…)


Where is the Church in the Book of Acts?

June 23, 2008

Title: Where is the Church in the Book of Acts?


Text: Acts 2:41, 47

Time: June 15th, 2008

Last week I made the point that supernatural miracles were conspicuous in the early Christian church but rather inconspicuous in today’s church. Then I gave reasons for this difference, mostly because of a lack of faith on the part of Christians within the church today, but also because God sends certain special times of miracles and withholds them at other times. Nevertheless, we could see more miracles today if we were more seriously committed to God and God’s will in our lives, families, churches and communities. Now this morning I’d like to make another observation about the early church in comparison to today’s modern church that is just as stunning – most of what we know of church today isn’t even mentioned in the Book of Acts, or in the New Testament, or even in the whole Bible including the Old Testament. Think about that. In reading the pages of the Book of Acts we just might ask the question: where’s the church? Where is what we know as church? Where is what we call church today? For example, where are church buildings in the Book of Acts? There are none. There is the Jewish Temple, but that’s a site for Jewish worship that Christians used, but in no way was it a Christian “church building” like we know today. There were also Jewish synagogues, but again, even though Christians attended these meeting-places sometimes, later, nearly all Christians were eventually prohibited from entering these gathering-places. So in no way can these be called Christian churches. Christians mostly met in private homes. Take some more examples: where is church music, hymns, piano, organ, or instrumental bands and chorus praise songs? None. What about Sunday school for kids, nursery, youth group, etc? None. What about a particular order of service, the church bulletin (you know, the paper that the usher hands you upon entering the typical church), the liturgy, any kind of fixed church programmed meeting? Nothing mentioned about that in the Book of Acts. What about candles, crosses, stained glass windows, pews, the pulpit, etc? No mention of these things in the Bible. What of dressing up in fancy and formal clothing, the wearing of hats, wearing one’s Sunday best? Sorry, nothing to say about these things. What about choirs, robes, soloists, special music, anthems, hymn books and Bibles in the pews? Nope, none of these. What about ushers and passing the offering plates, announcements, and responsive readings? Nothing. How about the whole idea of denominations (like Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Assemblies of God, etc.) and para-church organizations (like Focus on the Faith, the Gideons, Salvation Army, etc.)? Once again, the Bible doesn’t mention any of these things. So we see already that church in the first century, the original church of the Apostles, was greatly different than the churches we see today in our day. What does this mean? Is it good, bad, or just different? Acts 2:41, 47 says, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. . . . And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Why is the church today so different from the early, original church? What should be done about this difference today? Should we change everything we are doing, or some things, or nothing in response? Let me give a few points regarding this. (more…)

Are you Prepared to Die?

June 18, 2008


Title: Are you Prepared to Die?

Text: John 14:1-4

Time: June 16th, 2008

My neighbors who live next door to me here in Jamestown have been having health problems over the last few years. They are both in their eighties. She recently was diagnosed with lung cancer and isn’t expected to live very long. He was getting weaker and weaker being 88 years old this year. So when I heard the emergency vehicle screaming up to the driveway last Thursday night I expected it to be the woman, the one with the cancer. I fully expected that she had taken a turn for the worse and needed to be rushed to the hospital – or worse, that she hadn’t made it and would be pronounced dead by the paramedics. But that wasn’t the case. It was the older man this time who was in trouble. I guess he had stopped responding and had just slipped into unconsciousness. I watched as they took him to the hospital on the stretcher in the ambulance. I later learned that he regained some of his strength on Friday, but early Saturday morning passed away. Just last weekend I had seen him out in his garage scratching away at something. I saw him walk up the back steps at the rear entrance to his house. He seemed to be struggling, but nothing unusual. But now he’s gone. They cremated his body. His memorial service will be this coming week at the First Presbyterian Church down the street from their house on Fifth Street. I plan on attending. It’s strange, because on the Thursday evening when they took him in the ambulance to the hospital, I had the chance to talk to his wife and pray with and encourage her. I reminded her of the passage found in the New Testament, the Gospel of John 14:1-4, “Don’t let your hearts be trouble, trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Little did I realize that her husband would die a couple of days later. But the Lord was using me to prepare her for his death through this passage. I quoted the passage to her because it’s one of the best verses for thinking about death and the life to come for a believer. I assume they are both believers because I used to see them go to church every Sunday, although the pastor of their church doesn’t preach the Bible much. Still, hopefully, they’ve been exposed to gospel preaching in their 80+ years of churchgoing. But that passage really puts things in perspective during the loss of a believing loved one. I heard one pastor say that if the Christian church does one thing right, it should at least prepare a person to die. And so that is the topic of today’s message: are you prepared to die? Are you? We don’t know when it is our time to go. Certainly I wasn’t expecting that the man next door would be dying before his wife with cancer. After all, the doctors had given her three months to live, not him. She was expected to die, but not him, not so soon, not at this time. But death doesn’t wait for our timing; it comes in its own time. Are you prepared for it? Let’s look at the verse in the Gospel of John. (more…)

Where are the Miracles?

June 9, 2008


Title: Where are the Miracles?

Text: Acts 2:43

Time: June 8th, 2008

One of the most obvious things you observe when you read the Bible for the first time as a new convert to Christianity is how the early church was filled with supernatural miracles. Not only is the Old Testament filled with stories of the miraculous, but also the New Testament is filled with the supernatural. Jesus and the Apostles worked miracles, as did the other men and women of the early church. But if we look at Christianity today, if we examine the church today, we don’t see nearly as much miraculous activity as we see in the original Christian church. Yes, there are Pentecostal, Charismatic and other Christians who pray often for healings, and see them happen occasionally. Yes, there are supernatural miracles that happen from time to time probably within all churches among all Christians once in a while, but nothing like we read about in the New Testament record. Yes, there are fantastic and nearly unbelievable reports from the mission fields, particularly in Third World Nations, of dramatic exorcisms and resurrections from the dead, but these reports always seem to be from “over there” in a land “far, far away” among different people, never in the here and now and close by. Now I don’t doubt for one minute that God is still working supernatural miracles because I’ve seen a few of them myself in the course of my twenty years plus ministry. For example, I’ve see a woman healed of cancer through direct answer to the laying-on-of-hands and prayer. I’ve also witnessed a case of demonic possession, at least I was convinced that the person was possessed of a demon based on the circumstances surrounding the incident. And there are many other situations that I’ve witnessed to convince me the God is able to, and in fact does, do supernatural miracles today. I’m sure most Christians, especially most Christian leaders like pastors and church workers, can testify to many signs and wonders they’ve witnessed over the course of their Christian life. But my question is: why aren’t we seeing the kind of miracles and the frequency of supernatural activity that the New Testament describes in our local churches today? Even Pentecostal and Charismatic ministers have to admit that their churches don’t come close to the kind of supernatural atmosphere we observe in the early church based on the record in the New Testament. For example, when was the last time you remember hearing of someone being raised from the dead as a result of Christians praying around this area? The New Testament believers saw such things. Or when was the last time you’ve seen or heard a demon speak in a strange voice from a possessed person — outside of the movies or television? But the early believers had these kinds of things happening. So we have to ask ourselves again and again, “Where are the miracles Lord?” Isn’t the Lord Jesus the same yesterday, today, and forever, as the Bible states? Was the Bible written for our instruction and example? If so, if it gives us examples of miracles, aren’t we supposed to be able to see them in our own day and age? Christianity, as described in the Bible, is a supernatural faith, but that isn’t what we see most of the time today. Why is that? I’d like to tackle this difficult question by offering a few possible answers. Hopefully, by the end, we’ll be able to understand God’s will on the matter. (more…)

Awakening Sermon #1 — the 3 C’s

June 4, 2008

 Title: Awakening Sermon #1, The 3 C’s

Text: Acts 2:22-41

Time: June 4th, 2008

During the First Great Awakening in the 1740’s of America, there were basically three things that happened to people who experienced that great revival. First, they experienced the conviction of sin. Second, they experienced confession and repentance from sin. Third, they experienced absolute commitment to Christ for salvation. These three things occurred then, and occurred again in the Second Great Awakening of the 1800’s, and they will occur wherever revival comes because they are the essential and irreducible components of revival as found in the Books of Acts. Today, we hear talk of revival here and there, but I only ask one question of these reports: do they manifest the three essential components of all great revivals – conviction, confession, and commitment? If not, it’s all just wishful thinking. The first description of this pattern for revival occurs in the Book of Acts, chapter two. Peter begins to preach a sermon to the gathered crowd. As he describes the death of Jesus and the personal responsibility of each person for it, he stirs conviction of sin in each of them. This led to everyone present confessing and repenting of their sins. And then finally, it described how they all committed their hearts to Christ by faith as a result. Conviction, confession, commitment. The three C’s. Now contrast that description in Acts with what is typical today and we’ll see that usually only one c is emphasized, and that is the c of commitment. But how can commitment be valid if conviction and confession are not present at the same time? Maybe that explains why so often “commitments” to Christ don’t last; it’s because the commitment wasn’t valid in the first place because there wasn’t any conviction of sin nor confession of sin beforehand. How can one commit to Christ without feeling the conviction of sin and feeling a need to confess that sin and repent of that sin? It’s only as an end result, not as a starting place, one commits to Christ. This explains also why so much of Christianity is shallow today. It’s because people are not properly brought along through the process of true Christian conversion; they are only invited to decide to belief in Jesus, but how deep can that belief be if they’ve not been convicted of sin or confessed that sin before committing to Christ? It seems like a shallow commitment where there is no conviction or confession. But that is sadly the state of many people in churches today. The answer, the solution to this problem is to return to the pattern of the early church and later the Great Awakenings, and preach the true conversion message that leads people to true conversion to Christ, not the overly simplified message we hear often today. So let’s outline that true conversion message. (more…)

Are you truly Saved?

June 4, 2008


Title: Are You Saved?

Text: Acts 2:36-41

Time: June 2nd, 2008

Today, we come to that all important question: are you saved, are you born again, do you have salvation, have you escaped the Judgment, have you eternal life, are you forgiven of your sins – all of these are really the same question – is your invisible, eternal soul in a state of grace or not? What could be more important than the eternal status of your soul? “What does it profit a man (or woman) to gain the whole world and lose his (or her) soul?” Jesus said. What could be more important a question than what is the state or condition of my soul, of your soul? If the Bible is true, if what Christianity teaches is true, if what Jesus and the Apostles taught is true – that this life is only but a prelude to an eternal existence, then the most important issue before me, before you, is what is the status of our soul before God. What difference does it make how much money or property or possessions you had in this life if you lose your very soul to eternity? What difference would it be if you achieved all earthly success, achievement and status before the world and lost your soul? What would it gain you if you enjoyed every pleasure and experienced every type of excitement or adventure only to eventually lose your soul in eternity. No, the words of Jesus are still true, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world (gain everything in this earthly life) and lose his own soul (lose everything in the life to come)?” The answer is obviously, “Nothing, it would gain him nothing.” So we need to revisit the most fundamental question from time to time, “What is the state of my soul before God?” or in other words, “Am I truly saved?” Because the stakes are just too high to ignore such an important issue. Now when we ask ourselves such a question, there will always seem to be a lot of people who will quickly seek to reassure us of a positive answer. For example, if you ask the typical pastor or clergyman about salvation, or more specifically the state of your soul, if they know you or have known you they will probably be eager to reassure you that you are indeed saved. They’ll seek to calm your fears and doubts about the matter in order to give you peace of mind about the whole thing. But even though we can understand how they might want to make you feel better and give you peace about it, are they really helping you if they quickly pass over the real profound question of salvation simply to make you feel better? No. The great Reformer Martin Luther had a similar situation occur to him repeatedly in his early life. As a monk, he’d go to his superior and inquire as to the state of his soul, and he’d always be assured that he didn’t need to worry, that God will save his soul, but somehow he never could believe that these men, these clergymen, could or had the absolute authority to speak for God concerning his soul. He wanted assurance from God , not some man trying to make him feel good. And that’s the problem we face today. We don’t need the assurance of some man, or his opinion about our soul, we need the authoritative Word of God on our salvation, because after all, in the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter what some man believes, or even what you or I might believe or wish to believe about the salvation of our souls; all that really matters is what God decides is the status of our soul before him. If my soul is saved, it’s because God says so, not man! So today, as we grow older and older every week, every year, let us revisit the important, the most important question: am I really saved? Is my soul, is your soul, in a state of salvation before the Almighty and Living God today? (more…)