One of the joys of being a follower of Christ is the privilege that He grants you to likewise be part of His family, the church. In Christ, all believers are united to Him as the head of the church, and to one another as the body. We were created by the Lord to operate in community, and we have the privilege to be a vital and beneficial part of one another's lives.
But living in community with your brothers and sisters in Christ isn't always an easy thing to do. Sometimes, our preferences or selfish tendencies can get in the way. Sometimes, as the result of an offense, it can be easy to pull away from others while you brood over what has you upset. Other times, it can be easy to lose sight of what's really important in this world, and as a result, we invest our time elsewhere instead of investing it in Christ's people or allowing them to make investments in us.
Thankfully, we have multiple examples from Scripture that show us a glimpse of the attitude Christ wants us to foster among one another. As we look at some of these examples, we can learn more about what it would mean for us to recapture the heart and mindset of the early church.
When you become a parent, a curious change takes place in your life. You begin thinking about yourself less, and a large percentage of your time and emotional energy is invested in the care and well-being of your kids. It's a healthy, but difficult process to endure because along the way, you also go from being their hero who can fix everything and can do no wrong, to being the target of a decent amount of complaints and critiques. Somewhere along the way, however, I'm told that your kids start liking you again, primarily when they start having kids.
I regularly tell my children that I'm praying for them. There isn't a single day of their lives that I haven't prayed for them, not because I'm being forced to, but because the Lord compels my heart to do so. The Lord has blessed my wife and me with two daughters and two sons, and we frequently pray about their spiritual growth, physical safety, and future marriages. Along the way, we do our best to impart biblical wisdom to them in the hopes that they will receive it and adopt it as their own.
When I look at Scripture, I see many examples of people who trusted in Christ and used their lives to serve and worship Him. Many of those examples are godly women that we would all do well to learn from. One such example is a woman who was part of the early church and partnered, along with her husband, with the Apostle Paul in his church planting ministry. Her name was Priscilla, and when I look at what Scripture tells us about her, I see the kind of woman that I would like my daughters to copy and my sons to marry.
Each week, I spend a good chunk of time working on the sermon that I'll preach on Sunday. When it's all said and done, my notes are about the length of a 10-page term paper, and I typically speak between 45-50 minutes. But last night, I had the privilege to preach a sermon that was one second in length.
I left the church later than normal last night. Right around 7:20pm, I started walking to my car when I noticed a woman and her three young grandchildren playing on our church playground. I said, "Hello," and then I asked her, "Do you or the kids need to use the bathrooms or anything before I go? I can wait to lock up if you need anything inside."
Think for a moment about something that made you sorrowful. I realize that's not always the kind of thing we prefer to think about, but since it's also not wise to deny ourselves the opportunity to grieve when we need to, let's think about something in that category for a moment.
How profound was your sorrow? Are you still in the midst of it? If not, while it was fresh, what did you do? How did it impact your daily life? How did it impact the nature of your prayers? Did you ask God for relief or did you find yourself feeling somewhat angry at God for allowing that grief to come into your life?
If your sorrow was a while ago, can you identify anything good that came from it? Truthfully, it's often our most difficult seasons that do the best job of making our hearts tender, our arms powerful, and our faith strong. Many of us can testify to the fact that even though we didn't enjoy our earlier seasons of sorrow, we don't regret them now because we're grateful for what we learned. And something else the Lord teaches us from those sorrowful experiences is that they don't last forever. For those who are in Christ, our sorrow lasts only a season and we see that very fact displayed in Jeremiah 50.
Are there people you have to interact with regularly that you don't really trust? I have an acquaintance that I have to interact with periodically throughout the year, and the longer I have known him, the less I feel I can believe what he says. I'll think he's speaking plainly with me, then discover that what he said is the opposite of what is true. It's hard to function or work with someone like that. In fact, I consider it nearly impossible.
Generally speaking, do you tend to believe others when they tell you something or do you take what they say under consideration until you have the opportunity to do a little research yourself? What about the Lord? When He speaks, are you primarily skeptical or are you trusting of what He says? To what degree do you value what He has made known in His word?
In the portion of Scripture we're looking at today, we'll be shown various signs of unhealthy skepticism and how God chooses to ultimately address the fruit of this form of unbelief.
Tonight I had an experience that was both unique and uncomfortable. On Sunday evenings, I regularly preach for the service at BlueStone Church, our sister church in West Conshohocken. Because the weather was so beautiful tonight, we left the windows and the front doors open during the worship service to let the evening breeze into the building.
The front of the church is very close to the edge of the road, and while I spoke this evening about the sacrificial love of Jesus and how Jesus calls us to love one another with that same kind of sacrificial love, I noticed that a man pulled his car up to the entrance of the church and he sat there during the course of the message for over 35 minutes. At first, I assumed he was waiting to pick someone up from one of the nearby homes. Then I wondered if he was planning to attend the service, but wasn't sure where to park. But soon it became clear that he wanted to hear the message from his car, so he parked in the fire lane outside the church and listened. It seemed a little curious to me, but didn't immediately strike me as alarming.
A few years back, I was talking to a friend of mine. His daughter had recently moved to a different country and taken a job there. He wasn't happy about it though. In addition to missing her, he questioned her motivation for moving. Their family had experienced a high degree of conflict and disfunction during the years prior and he was convinced that she had moved far away, particularly to avoid having to interact with her mother. He described what she was doing as "running."
Have you ever felt like you were trying to run from something? Has there ever been a season of your life when you may have been running from God? I know that in my life, there have been a few occasions when I was trying to run from Him. I'll let you in on a little secret. It doesn't work.
Sometimes, God tells us things we don't want to hear. Sometimes He asks us to be obedient to Him in ways that conflict with our preferences or personal goals. Sometimes He confronts the prevailing logic of our generation and asks us to go in a different direction. How do we respond to Him in those moments?
In Jeremiah 39, we can see an example of someone who spent plenty of time ignoring the voice of God. His heart spent years running from the Lord, and then his legs attempted to do some running as well. What do you suppose the Lord wants us to learn from a passage like this? What kind of questions should we be asking ourselves as we look at this sad season in King Zedekiah's life?
Several years ago, I had a conversation with a friend regarding our opinions on how to help impoverished nations. We debated how best to do so and didn't necessarily agree on our approach. But one thing we did agree upon was the importance of showing them compassion.
The other day I saw a video of Christians in South Korea filling plastic water bottles with rice and throwing them into the sea in such a way that they stood a chance of washing up on the beaches of North Korea and feeding the impoverished people living there. In addition to the rice, they also attached copies of the Bible to the bottles with the intention to reach them with the gospel since religion is illegal in North Korea.
Compassion is something our Lord inspires within His people and empowers them to practice. When the Lord fosters a sense of compassion within your heart, how do you respond? Do you contemplate it until the impression goes away, or does Christ-centered compassion motivate you to take action?
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central event of our faith. Everything we believe rests on that singular event. If Jesus did not rise from death, our faith would be pointless. If our Savior is dead and buried, then we are still spiritually dead, chained to our sins, and destined to spend our eternities as rebels who are banished from the presence of God.
But Jesus is not dead. The tomb is empty. He rose from the grave just as He assured His followers He would. Because of His resurrection, we can be assured that we who believe in Him will also rise from death. As we trust in Jesus, He lives within us. The grip sin had on our lives has been broken. The command Satan had over us has been nullified. The sting of death has been replaced with the assurance of everlasting life.
I bring this up today to encourage our hearts with the truth that Jesus took the time to explain to His early followers. We don't need to be troubled, because everything is going to work out. Jesus has secured the ultimate victory, on our behalf, over everything that was torturing and defeating us. This is the kind of confidence Jesus was seeking to instill in His followers after His resurrection. As we look at this passage, and attempt to foster the same kind of confidence in Christ that His early followers were developing, there are several questions, based on this passage, that are worth asking.
When you're stressed, upset, or anxious, how do you deal with those emotions? When your mind is filled with worries, what do you try to think about instead? What do you daydream about? I bring these questions up because our answers can help us identify what we actually believe can provide us a sense of peace.
This world is looking for peace. Ever since mankind severed our fellowship with our Creator, we've been attempting to find the peace that we long for through created things instead of through Him. This has been the struggle of humanity ever since our earliest days.
This struggle was also highly visible on the day of Christ's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. As He entered into the city on that day, He was surrounded by all kinds of people. Some genuinely trusted in Him. Others were looking for Him to be the means by which they could acquire the worldly things they actually trusted in. Still others despised Him and openly rebuked and rejected Him.
Each of us can find someone in that crowd that represents the state our hearts are in right now. Would you like to know how true and lasting peace can be obtained? Let's take a look at what we're told in Luke 19.