42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Reflection: Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.
I’ll admit it – this passage has been as much a source of shame as it has been a source of inspiration for me over the years. That is no fault of the Scripture itself, but of our oftentimes competitive church culture in America. I look at the church of the apostles and realize that churches I have led do not look so glamorous or “successful.” And yet, all we have to do is keep reading in the book of Acts and throughout Paul’s letters to see that the apostolic church was anything but perfect.
As I look at this passage with fresh eyes (and a less self-centered approach!) I see it as an inspiration. The local church can accomplish its purposes! Christ-centered community can exist! And it does not have to look exactly like Acts 2! Christ-centered community will always be contextual and 21st century America is a much different context than 1st century Jerusalem.
What is important is that we look at the principles that were foundational to this early expression of the local church, even more so than the contextual specifics. What defined the life of this local expression of the Church? And how can we live out those same fundamental community principles in our own modern-day local expressions of the Church? Within all of this, we have to remember that our specific expression of the local church will be different from the local church in Europe or Asia or Africa. It will also be different than the church down the road or the megachurch across town. We can all live according tot he same commitments and principles, but we must do so in our specific context.
The first question we need to ask is what makes my church what it is? What do we do well? Oftentimes we look at the local church through a deficiency lens – what are we not doing that church x is doing? Instead, we need to look at the local church from an assets based approach – what gifts do we possess within our church that can impact our community for the kingdom of Jesus Christ? Any Christ-centered community will only realize its true potential when it stops looking outward in comparison and starts looking inward for its specific God-given mission.
How will you be “the Church” today? How can we be “the Church” together? Those are the questions that we must answer as we look at the important rhythm of Christ-centered community. And how can the other “communities” we live within – such as our families – reflect the principles of the apostolic church in Jerusalem? Remember: the same Holy Spirit that directed the common life of the apostles is directing our common life together in our context. We already have everything we need!
Journaling Focus: Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
When have you witnessed the church living out its best? When have you seen the church at its worst? Think about these experiences and reflect on them as you journal this week. The church does not always live up to what it should be, but it is also a place of great healing and growth. Though I have experienced great hurt in the church, it is also the place where I found Jesus Christ, where I heard my life’s vocational calling, and where I experience God regularly through sacrament and worship and fellowship. What has the church meant to you in your life? How might you live out the church’s best life and purposes, even while dealing with its imperfections?
This practice allows you to listen to the Scripture for the week (in larger context) and to open yourself up to God’s voice in that Scripture.
Click on the audio link above and listen to the Scripture. As you listen this first time, ask God to point out to you a word or phrase from the Scripture.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a second time. As you listen this second time, ask God to reveal to you the holy intentions for this word or phrase that is being spoken into your life.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a third time. As you listen this third time, ask God how you might respond to this word or phrase being spoken into your life today.
These questions are designed to help make sense of the message of Scripture. They are not designed to overwhelm, but to enlighten. Do not feel as if you need to answer all – or even most – of these questions every week. Perhaps pick one or two that will help you explore the Scripture and its message more deeply.
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passages teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
Listen to the song, Let Your Kingdom Come. The Kingdom of God is the ultimate expression of Christ-centered community. Notice how connected the rhythm of holistic worship is incorporated into this call for the kingdom to come. What is God communicating to you through this song? What might you communicate to God through this song?
Prayer Focus: They devoted themselves to…the prayers.
Pray for your local church this week. Ask God to empower your church, its members, and its leaders to live out the rhythms of holistic worship, intentional spiritual communion, compassionate missional service, and Christ-centered community. Trust that God is working and moving in the lives of all persons involved in your church. When we let God work in us and recognize the work of God in others, we will be empowered to be the Church!
Meditation Focus: And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Evangelism – or bringing those outside of the Christ-centered community into that community, through loving engagement and invitation – was central to the apostolic experience of the Church. Evangelism can only be accomplished when we see people – especially those outside of the church – as our brothers and sisters, as children of God, and as people of the Spirit. Everything that the church in Jerusalem experienced could be traced back to God claiming those original disciples as his children in the Upper Room. In that place, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples and “sat” among the people as a flame of fire upon their heads. This week, you are invited to meditate “on the go.” As you go to all the many places you will go this week, you will encounter many people. Imagine a flame of Holy Spirit fire resting upon the head of each and every person you encounter. Remember that they are people of the Spirit too. How does seeing them in that way inspire within you a spirit of evangelism?
Take some time to reflect upon your day or your week. Follow the process below and open yourself up to the presence and work of God in your life this week. Every week the structure is the same, but some specifics are changed to reflect the Scripture of the week.
- Find a place and posture that will prepare you for prayer.
- Begin by breathing in deeply through your nose and breathing deeply out of your mouth.
- Invite God to lead you through the previous day or week. For instance, if it is Tuesday night, reflect back on Tuesday morning, afternoon, and evening. If it Saturday or Sunday, reflect back on Monday through Friday.
- Ask God to guide you through these questions:
- Where have you witnessed the work of Christ inside the church walls?
- Where have you witnessed the work of Christ outside the church walls?
- How has God called you into community with others?
- Thank God for this journey of reflection on your day or week. Ask God to continue to reveal Godself to you tomorrow.
Learn more about a Christian faith tradition different than your own. Most denominations have organizational websites that tell about the structure, beliefs, and practices of their faith tradition. Most have the same core beliefs that we do. And sometimes the differences can be fascinating and enlightening. Do a simple Google search on another denomination (Presbyterian, Catholic, Baptist, Episcopalian, Society of Friends, etc.) and see what you can find out about our brothers and sisters of different traditions!
Breath Prayer: LORD God, bind us together in your love.