Reading about the early church excites me. I see the demonstration of God’s power in the lives of believers as a kingdom norm. I’m also quite sure had I not believed in miracles I would not have received any. But I do and I have. The book of Acts shines a light on the condition of the church today that’s tough to ignore. It was a period of time one might call the pre-cessation age, a term many ministers have embraced that explains away the power of God. Maybe they think negating His power affirms the validity of their own ministries and the lack of power in them. But doesn’t the mere fact one claims a belief in God justify the miraculous? Isn’t that what makes Him God?
Acts chapter 6 details a surprising outcome to a challenge the Apostles faced. After an explosion of newly converted Greek speaking Jewish believers an accusation was made against the Hebrew leaders. They were criticized for overlooking the Hellenistic Jewish widows in the food distribution. Feeling they should not neglect the ministry of the word and prayer to “wait tables” the 12 apostles chose seven men of good repute to correct the discrepancy. Stephen was one of those men.
I stand amazed this disciple of reportedly lesser rank blew the lid off evangelism and shook the entire early church. Stephen heated things up to the point the religious lot fabricated some of the very same lies against him they did against Jesus. (Acts 6: 11-15) As he boldly declared the resurrected Christ the sword of Gods word pierced their hearts. In just a few moments, Stephen’s exhortation decimated the value of political correctness.
The gaze of those listening was fixed upon him as his face shone like that of an angel. They had no retort and rather than repent, their anger and hatred propelled them to murder. As rocks of rage plummeted Stephen’s body he proclaimed,”Behold I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7: 56) I can’t help but wonder if Jesus rose from his throne to personally receive Stephen into paradise.
Not so today. For us Christianity has become a spectator sport. Residing in the passive posture of watching from the sidelines the church has been well trained in simply showing up. As if technology has not consumed enough of our lives now we continue to be “videod” to death even in church. Pastors provide a quick hour or so of inspired (?) entertainment and we’re in and out in the blink of an eye. Presuming we have now achieved some kind of good standing that will hold us for the week,
we pay our tithe and go with everyone seemingly happy. Except maybe the Holy Spirit.
Entertainment oriented musicians have replaced anointed minstrels, who are skillful in opening up the hearts of the people to worship. Worship is an important part of our invitation to the Holy Spirit to come and dwell with us. Political correctness has replaced a fierce passion for God’s word and placed the opinions of man on the altar above God. One could call that idolatry. The Pastors desire to fill his church with people has trumped filling the house with the glory and presence of God. That makes for an environment more interested in pleasing people than pleasing God.
The precious gifts and presence of the Holy Spirit are either overtly spoken against or politely hushed. Either way He knows where He is welcome and where He is not. The Lord has graciously provided a five fold ministry: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. Many of our leaders in the body of Christ embrace and acknowledge only one or two of those offices depriving their people of some of the greatest blessings God has for us. Meant to bring revelation and understanding of our knowledge of God they are called to steward a move of the Holy Spirit, not to replace one.
I can not help but think about the one thing that truly separates Christianity from every other religion. It can only be the vibrant reality of a living God! His presence! Jesus made it clear to his disciples it was better for them if He left for then they could receive the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. He promised them the comforter would come and come He did! And to the surprise of many in the body of Christ He has never left! The early church embraced His presence and His power and all of His amazing gifts! He continually brought glory, honor and praise to the Lord Jesus Christ and He confirmed the words of the disciples with signs and wonders! The excitement of having the Spirit of the Lord move in our midst far surpasses any cool guitar player or slick video clip, wouldn’t you say?
The early church considered the reproach of the presence of the Lord and the name of Jesus an honor. They considered persecution a joy (Acts 5:41) and the Apostle Paul went as far as to say the best the world could offer was rubbish in his eyes compared to truly knowing the Lord. (Phil.3:8) So I have to wonder………why do we settle for the crumbs that fall on the floor, when there is a seat at the banqueting table of the Lord with our name on it?
For as David said, “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. (a metaphor for the Holy Spirit) My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
The House of the Lord. The place that is filled with His Presence, His Glory, His Spirit. May we never settle for less.