The good, the bad, the…………….beautiful? Not exactly a raucous sounding Clint Eastwood movie is it? But it is a picture of the church found in Acts 4:32 through 5:14, the recounting of Ananias and Sapphira. The good in that all who had need in the church were finding that need met through other members of this body. Especially well pictured for us in the person of Barnabas. The bad in the sin of Ananias and Sapphira. Not the sin of greed, as supposed by many, but the sin of spiritual deception as posed by these two believers to the church and ultimately to God. So where is the beautiful? Doesn’t this story end with the immediate deaths of this husband and wife team? ‘Falling down and breathing their last’ seems more like a violent ending to a Clint Eastwood movie of the old west than a conclusion to a church service in the first century. But the story really doesn’t end there, for Luke continues in verse 14 with the fact that ‘more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women’. Isn’t it interesting that the Holy Spirit recorded for us that the fastest growth spurt of all time for the church followed on the heals of such a traumatic event? I realize that the scriptures place this verse in the midst of a passage that records ‘many signs and wonders being performed by the apostles’, and this could explain the great growth of the church. But the scriptures also places it immediately after God’s judgment upon sin in His church. Verse 13 says that ‘none of the rest dared join them’ but that the people held them in high esteem. Why did the unbelievers not dare join them? It was because they saw that this body of believers not only demonstrated the love of Christ toward each other in meeting physical needs but also took sin in their midst very seriously. Here is the beautiful in this story. God takes sin seriously in His bride, the church. It is His purpose to present us holy and blameless before the Father and will go to great lengths to ensure her holiness. It is a beautiful thing when the church functions properly in holiness and unity as the Psalmist says, ‘how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!’ It is apparent that God doesn’t always discipline His children’s spiritual deception as severely as He did Ananias and Sapphira, or as Donald Barnhouse said, ‘each church would need a morgue in it’s basement and a mortician on Pastoral staff’. But the lesson for today’s church and it’s members is that we need to judge ourselves of personal spiritual deception. Do we pretend a righteousness we don’t possess? Do we try and persuade others that we are great prayer warriors when we know that prayer is simply used at meals and bedtime. Do we lead others to believe that we have it all together spiritually when we know that we are spiritual wrecks? Ananias and Sapphira’s sin was not a casual misrepresentation but a willful falsity seeking to lead the church to believe they possessed a deeper spirituality than truly existed in their lives. Today’s church must rid itself of deception among it’s members and live transparent before God and each other. As Paul says in Ephesians ‘having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.’ Let this year be one in which we as the church speak the truth in love to each other. For judgment should begin at the household of God. It is time for the evangelical church to become so distinctly different than the rest of the world that we give people something to convert to. Let that distinction begin with our truthfulness to one another. soli deo gloria
Picture the first century church with me “…..they received… with glad and generous hearts”,”…. and having favor with all the people”,”….. great grace was upon them all”,”….when he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad.” This all according to the book of Acts. Picture the 21st century church with me “…..they received…with glad and generous hearts”,”….and having favor with all the people”,”…..great grace was upon them all”,”….when he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad.” This all according to the experience of this Pastor. The month of October has been Pastor Appreciation month, not sure what official body of authority established this or how it is to be observed but our local church and the church at large has surely shown it’s appreciation for this Pastor. CHCC honored us with a gift of a large hand made quilt featuring a stitching of the church and the name of each member. What a treasure! It will proudly (I mean proudly in a ‘Christian’ sense) be displayed in our new house. It truly is a heart felt gift both given and received. The church at large has displayed grace, generosity, and love to us in our recent move from one house to another. What a wonderful example of Christ likeness is the body of Christ as it finds itself both recipients and givers of ‘great grace’. We often compare ourselves as the contemporary church to the first century church, mostly in a negative light. And at times we do fall short in areas of discernment, depth of doctrinal understanding, and commitment to proper worship of a Holy God. But when it comes to showing grace within the body of Christ Center Hill and our friends at First Baptist of Clarion, First Baptist of New Bethlehem and Zion Baptist excel. This has been proven time and time again over the past years as the Body has risen to extend favor where favor is not deserved and certainly not earned, the very meaning of grace. What a privilege to be a part of the church today. Thank you Center Hill and friends for being Christ to my family and me. soli deo gloria
In our recent sermon series on Sunday Morning, in Ephesians 2, we have been looking at the images that Paul paints of the universal and local church. One of these images in particular has grasped me, a building or specifically a holy temple for His presence. Also in 1 Peter 2:5-9 we are called ‘living stones’ being built up by the great Builder Himself. The imagery is unmistakable, God is about the process of building Himself a spiritual building consisting of the saints of old and now, so that we become the manifested pinnacle of His glory to a chaotic and sinful world. ‘Living stones’. Have we ever considered ourselves as that? Parts of a larger structure, not drawing attention to ourselves but to the whole. When the workers were completing Solomon’s temple, the stones were actually cut to shape and size at the quarry and then taken to the temple and placed into position so as not to have noise of the stones and the iron tools at the temple itself. The stones weren’t making any noise, drawing attention away from the structure. ‘Living Stones’, each unique in it’s size and shape, being chiseled by the Great Builder and having been placed in position by Him. The stone doesn’t tell the builder where to place it. The stone is precisely placed in position beside, under, or above other stones for the purpose of completing the structure. ‘Living Stones’, shaped and formed to be in exact conformity to the Cornerstone. The cornerstone of any building is not only the integral part of the foundation but also the basis of all measurements and calculations of every part of the structure; walls, arches, roofs, and doorways. Without a perfect cornerstone, every angle or cut is wrong, effecting the entire structure adversely. Ephesians is clear, our Cornerstone is Christ. We are shaped and conformed to His image. God has chosen in times past to manifest His glory in different ways. Aside from the manifestation of His eternal power and divine nature in creation (Romans 1), He has chosen His church to be the pinnacle of His glory today. We are to work out our salvation with trembling and fear and this can only be done in the continual ongoing interaction of His people with one another and with the lost. How we fit together, how we treat one another, how we draw attention to the Builder and His glory may be the only testimony that many will see of the greatness and supremacy of our God. How are we doing as a spiritual structure being built by God to display His attributes of grace, mercy, love and truth? Our look at images of the church continues this week as we see the church as a ‘body’. Won’t you be in prayer for this series and your church, as a reflection of God’s glory to a fallen world?