Recapturing the heart and mindset of the early church

Recapturing the heart and mindset of the early church

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.

The kind of woman I hope my daughters become and my sons marry

The kind of woman I hope my daughters become and my sons marry

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.

Last night I preached a "one-second sermon"...

Last night I preached a "one-second sermon"...

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."

Your sorrow is only for a season

Your sorrow is only for a season

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.

You might be a skeptic if...

You might be a skeptic if...

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 a Muslim man yelled into our building...

Tonight a Muslim man yelled into our building...

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.

Don't you get tired of running from God?

Don't you get tired of running from God?

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?

Let compassion motivate your action

Let compassion motivate your action

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?

You don't need to be troubled. It's all going to work out.

You don't need to be troubled.  It's all going to work out.

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.

Would you like to know what can bring you peace?

Would you like to know what can bring you peace?

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.

Can you see what the Lord is about to do?

Can you see what the Lord is about to do?

Not long ago, our family took a small trip to stay in a log cabin near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. We had a lot of fun. The cabin was really accommodating. There were a lot of things for us to do nearby. And on top of it all, the cost to take this trip was extremely cheap. It was quite possibly the most affordable excursion we've ever taken as a family.

On our last day of the trip, the weather outside was very cold and windy, so we spent some time indoors playing board games. Specifically, we played Monopoly. I'd like to tell you that I won, but I didn't. The game was dominated by my son, Daniel who got off to a strong start and never looked back.

At one point, I landed on one of his properties and didn't have enough cash to pay him. I tried to work out a deal with him, but he wasn't interested in what I offered him. So I tried to use psychology to influence him to give me the deal I wanted. I said, "If you turn this deal down, you can see what I'm going to have to do next, right?" He wasn't sure what I was going to do, but he risked it and turned down my offer anyway. Basically, my only option was to make deals with everyone else in order to raise the capital I needed to pay him.

When we look at this portion of Scripture from Jeremiah, God lets us see ahead of time what He's about to do. He has chosen not to keep His plans secret. He prophetically reveals His intentions for His people. Still, it requires faith to be able to trust Him to do what He has said He will do. It requires a God-given ability to look forward and treat the future like it's a foregone conclusion. Do we have that kind of faith? Can we see what the Lord is about to do? Are we willing to trust Him for things that aren't right in front of us at present? This Scripture gives us some great counsel regarding that very concept.

Has your sin been forgiven and your fellowship with God restored?

Has your sin been forgiven and your fellowship with God restored?

Have you ever made a promise to God? Did you keep it? I remember when I was 12-years-old and a friend of mine offered me some chewing tobacco. I knew better than to try it, but I tried it anyway. As gross as this sounds, he also encouraged me and another friend of mine to swallow the saliva that was generated while we were chewing it, instead of spitting it out. I took his advice and did that. Within minutes, I went from feeling healthy and fine to feeling like I had the worst case of the flu. My stomach was upset and my head was pounding. It felt like the sick feeling would never go away.

So I made a promise to God. If He helped me to feel better, I promised to never chew tobacco again. In an hour or so, I started to feel a little better, but instead of keeping my promise, I started to use tobacco in just about every form it came in for the next two years. For me, it was very difficult to stop, and in the process I made many promises to God that I broke.

Throughout the Scriptures, we're told of various "covenants" or "agreements" God has made with His people. Interestingly, He always keeps His end of the agreement while His people have a consistent tendency of breaking theirs. But one of the covenants God initiated, the New Covenant, offers us the opportunity to have our sin permanently forgiven and our fellowship with God restored forever. This portion of Jeremiah's book speaks of the New Covenant.

Do I understand God's plan?

Do I understand God's plan?

Years ago, I remember a family that I was friends with telling me that they had five separate calendars hanging up in their kitchen. They did this to keep track of the schedules of everyone in their household. At this point, I do something similar except in digital form. I have the schedules of each member of my family in my phone and I also keep track of our church calendar and other ministry obligations.

Having a schedule that I can look at helps me to plan and get things accomplished. It helps me make the best use of my time. You probably feel the same way about your schedule and calendar.

Planning isn't unique to us. In fact, Scripture reveals to us that the Lord Himself has a long-term plan that He is in the process of unfolding. But what is God's plan and do we understand what He's actually trying to accomplish? Let's take a look at some of what He reveals about His plan in Jeremiah 29.

God's discipline is proof of His love

God's discipline is proof of His love

When you hear the word "discipline", what thoughts come to your mind? Do you think about the concept of practicing personal disciplines like eating healthy foods and getting exercise? Do you think about incorporating the spiritual disciples of prayer and the reading of Scripture into your daily routine? Or do you primarily associate the word "discipline" with the word "punishment"?

When you were a child, it's likely that you didn't get too excited about your parents disciplining you. Likewise, if you're a parent, I can just about guarantee that some of the most unpleasant moments of your experience with raising children have involved discipline. But the truth is, when you're seeking to shepherd a young life, the enforcement of discipline is actually evidence of love.

That's something we see playing out in Jeremiah 25. The Lord loved the people of Judah, but because of their lack of faith and stubborn disobedience, He disciplined them with the long-term goal that His act of discipline would convince them of His love and encourage them to repent.

Who has the power to make your life flourish?

Who has the power to make your life flourish?

When I was growing up, we didn't have very many TV channels. At best, we could usually get four or five through the over-the-air antenna. I have always been someone who struggled to fall asleep at a normal time, so growing up, I would often find myself watching TV while trying to doze off. I remember noticing a pattern with many of the shows that came on during those late hours. Many of the shows were paid infomercials by people who made some sort of promise that they could give you the kind of life you've always wanted.

Some shows focused on your finances. Others focused on your health. There were also programs that spoke of spiritual issues. Truthfully speaking, most of these shows were garbage. I'm grateful that I was able to see through that, even at a young age, but I knew people who fell for the pitches and promises of these late-night gurus because they were so desperate for help that they would listen to anyone who sounded at least moderately convincing.

But the promises we find in Scripture go deeper than the vain promises of men. In God's word, we learn that there is one leader who actually does have the power to make our lives flourish in every healthy way. That person is Jesus Christ and this chapter of Jeremiah's book speaks prophetically of Him while also cautioning us about the presence of contrasting leadership that seeks to steer us in ungodly directions.

Why is it so hard to listen to what I need to hear?

Why is it so hard to listen to what I need to hear?

A while back, I had a very strange experience. I was teaching an adult Sunday School class to a group of about twenty-five people. As I was speaking, I noticed that very abruptly, I lost the hearing in my right ear. I paused for a moment because it was a very strange sensation, told the class what was happening, tried to wiggle my ear to see if the problem would go away, and when it didn't correct itself, I just continued to teach the class.

I visited my doctor the next day. He explained to me the nature of the problem, and walked me through the process of correcting it. It took about a week, but by the end of the week, after one more visit to the doctor, my hearing was restored. I'll spare you the details of what was wrong, but I was quite relieved to have my hearing again after losing it for several days.

Ironically, sometimes when our hearing is in perfectly good order, we still struggle to listen. That's what this passage of Scripture is speaking about. The Lord's people were struggling to listen to the instructions, directions, and counsel He graciously offered them, and they were paying a price for their willful ignorance.

In our context, why is it so difficult for us to listen to what we really need to hear? This portion of Scripture helps us understand why.

You'll regret settling for a cheap substitute

You'll regret settling for a cheap substitute

Something that seems to entertain my children, when it comes up in conversation, is how many years I can get out of a pair of shoes. In fact, I have a pair of sneakers that I like to wear that still look reasonably new, even though I bought them several years ago.

But that wasn't the case when I was a kid. As a child, I would go through sneakers rather quickly. I was always outside doing something and I played several sports that involved a high degree of running, so if a pair of sneakers lasted me a few months, that was considered good.

Being one of three siblings, the rate at which I would burn through a pair of shoes during that season wasn't a minor expense for my parents. That being the case, on occasion, we would opt for buying some knock off brands from time to time. Unfortunately, even though it initially felt like we were saving money, those shoes didn't hold up very long. They were cheap substitutes and I can still remember the way they would crack and tear after very little use.

There are some areas where it doesn't pay to settle for a cheap substitute, the most obvious being in our spiritual lives. There is no substitute for a relationship with the true and living God. No idol or humanly invented deity can comfort the heart and give lasting hope to the soul. That's something the Lord makes clear to Jeremiah in this passage of Scripture.

Does my heart match the image I convey?

Does my heart match the image I convey?

I think it's fair to say that most, if not all people, desire to experience good national leadership during the course of their lifetime. Jeremiah's life spanned the reign of multiple kings of Judah, but the events spoken of in Chapter 7 took place during the reign of a godly king. For a time, Josiah reigned as king in Judah. His reign began when he was eight, but when he was sixteen, he became a fully devoted follower of the Lord. In his 20's, he sought to eradicate idols from the land. He also ordered the remodeling of the temple. In the process of remodeling, the books of the Old Testament Law were rediscovered and Josiah encouraged the people to begin obeying the Lord's teaching again.

2 Chronicles 35 tells us about the completion of the work on the temple and the celebration of the Passover that took place at that time. The people were excited, and in a very celebratory mood. From all outside appearances, it would have seemed like a great revival was taking place among the people and that a renewed interest in walking with the Lord was taking place on a large scale. But the Lord knows people's hearts. He knows when we're faking. He knows when we're trying to craft an image that's the opposite of what's taking place in our hearts. It was into this context that the Lord spoke through Jeremiah to address the distant hearts of the people of Judah that were being disguised by their outward display.

Amazingly, God still wants you back

Amazingly, God still wants you back

When I was in my early 20's, I knew a couple that had been dating for several years. From all outside appearances, it seemed that their relationship was healthy and strong. They spent time together. They enjoyed each others personalities. Their spiritual beliefs seemed to mesh. Everything looked fine. Then, seemingly out of the blue, the woman left her boyfriend for another man. On top of that, she abruptly married the other man which puzzled us all.

At the time this was taking place, my wife and I were dating and getting near to the day when we were planning on marrying. I couldn't help but wonder how I would react if something so unexpected and painful happened to me.

Fast forward a few months, and we learned that the woman ended her abruptly established marriage. We were told that the man she married was abusive and engaged in additional forms of sin. Not long after that, we learned that her previous boyfriend had accepted her repentance, and taken her back. Again, I couldn't help but wonder what I would have done in a situation like that. I also found it difficult not to feel slightly judgmental at how flighty and foolish that woman was starting to seem to me.

Multiple times in Scripture, the Lord refers to his children as being his bride. The people of Israel and Judah are spoken of this way. Likewise, those who trust in Jesus Christ and are part of His church are spoken of as His bride. Historically, the people the Lord has called His own have struggled to remain faithful to Him. We've wandered from Him like a faithless spouse. We've been flighty and foolish. Yet amazingly, God still wants us back. This portion of Scripture illustrates some very interesting things about God's loving heart toward His bride.

Stop giving God your excuses

Stop giving God your excuses

What does it take to become good at something? By what standard might someone actually be considered great at something? Typically, our standard for measuring the skill, talent, or giftedness of a person is by the results they produce. And if that's the kind of standard we applied to the prophet Jeremiah, we might call him a failure, and we would be dead wrong.

Jeremiah was a prophet to the kingdom of Judah beginning in the year 627 B.C. He was faithful to the Lord's calling on his life. He was courageous in the midst of persecution. He was given a thankless task as he proclaimed the truth to a rebellious people that didn't want to hear what the Lord was saying through him. His message was mocked. He was called a liar. His life was threatened, and the people of Judah did not repent of their sins.

But God gave Jeremiah the task to speak the truth to a dying nation, and Jeremiah relied on the Lord to provide him the strength to accomplish this task. Later in his life, he was taken to Egypt and it's believe that he was stoned to death and buried in an unmarked grave because his message was so despised. Yet we can be confident that he received a rich welcome into the presence of God as one who trusted in Him and poured out his heart and his life trying to point others to the Lord.