Category Archives: faith

Hated and Highly Regarded

Nestled in amidst the passion, boldness, love, persecution – the absolute beauty – of the early Church, we find in Acts 5:13 the words, “they were highly regarded by the people.” It’s true that Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26) So, what’s the catch?

This passage in Acts is interesting because we see a dichotomy – not in the behavior of the Church, but in outsiders’ perceptions of it. A verse earlier, we read that the people saw miracles performed by the apostles. We also see the early Christ followers gathering in Solomon’s Colonnade – that’s part of the temple, the seat of Jewish worship. The Jews – all the people – saw them together in fellowship and worship in this very public place.

We can probably infer as well that the people saw how the members of the early Church lived on a daily basis – that they refrained from sin, that they treated people with respect, that they spoke with boldness about the One who made them different – Christ.

I believe this is why the people held them in high regard. Outsiders daily saw these Christians not just living by the rules, but they saw Christ living through His Church. It was evidenced by authentic worship, charity, love for each other. They saw there was something special.

But verse 13 also reads, “No one else dared join them” in the colonnade. Nobody wanted to be seen with them. Despite the fact that these followers of the Way healed people, showed kindness to one another, lived pure lives, nobody wanted to be too closely associated with them.

Which is to be expected. And yet, in Acts 4:14, “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.”

They lived as they should, shared grace and love with one another, lived by the Word of God. They scared people, made outsiders want to avoid them, yet this Church was highly regarded, and its growth was unrestrainable.

I’m reminded of a message by Francis Chan in which he referenced the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-9). Jesus sat by the lake. Large crowds gathered. He told them this parable that, in all likelihood, made no sense to them. His disciples had to come ask Him what He was talking about! When the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the people in parables, He responded, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matt. 13:13)

He taught in parables so they would not understand. Only the ones who cared enough to chase Him down and ask for the answers would understand.

Francis Chan said, “If Jesus had a church…, His church would be smaller than mine.” Why? Because we try to teach so everyone can understand. We shy away from teachings that may be hard to understand or that step on toes. We try to draw people in with events and programs. But Jesus taught so that people would not understand unless they sought Him out! And that comes through an act of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus didn’t obsess over the next great method for getting people to listen to Him. He drove them away!

So why are we so obsessed with reaching the most people possible? Because that’s the way our world works. The measure of success in this world is, “How many people bought my product?”

But Christ is not a product. He’s the source of life.

Acts 4 shows us that when we live as Christ lived, teach as Christ taught, love as He loves, the Holy Spirit will do something amazing. Though people disdain to be seen with us, they will highly regard us. Though no one else dares join us, the Spirit will draw people to us, and the numbers of the Kingdom will grow.

But that growth isn’t guaranteed, and it’s certainly not a measure of success. The measure of success for the Church is, “Are we a presentable bride?”

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Entrenched

Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. Let’s get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father.”
Genesis 19:30-32

Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, burned and smashed to rubble by the wrath of God. The inhabitants of those two cities had become so warped by sin that He apparently felt they needed a fresh start.

Lot and his daughters had escaped the firestorm by mere moments. They were the only ones. And they, in fact, hadn’t wanted to leave. The angels who came to destroy the city told Lot over and over, “Get your family, and get out of town!” Finally, they had to take him by the hand and drag him out.

Even then, Lot’s wife looked back one time too many and was turned to a pillar of salt, and Lot himself refused to go further away than the town of Zoar on the outskirts of Sodom.

Lot had become so entrenched in the culture of Sodom that imminent death by burning sulfur wasn’t enough to make him want to leave! His sensibilities had become so warped that he even thought it acceptable to offer his daughters to a mob of perverts rather than let them rape the men who were guests in his home (Genesis 19:1-8). Why couldn’t he just say, “No?”

Then comes Genesis 19:30-32. Lot and his daughters – apparently all that were left of his family – left Zoar to live in a cave (what the heck is that about?!). So his daughters decided it would be a good idea to get their dad drunk and have sex with him so they could “preserve [the] family line.” I can’t help but think this is the direct result of Lot’s allowing his family to live in that twisted culture, of his entrenchment in it, of his unwillingness to leave it behind. If your right hand causes you to sin…

This leads me to think about today’s church in the United States. And I don’t mean the church as an institution. I mean the people of the American church. We have become so entrenched in our society’s attitudes, thought processes, and goals that we’ve forgotten who we are. It’s nothing new to say that Jesus told us to be in the world and not of it, but we are indistinguishable from it.

In many of our churches, the good Christians are the ones who own successful businesses, those with the beautiful new homes in the desirable neighborhoods, the great jobs and 52” plasma TVs. The great goal for my life when I got out of high school was to graduate from college so I could get a good job. (Good job = good money.) And that’s the goal that Christians are setting for their kids today, too.

Greed and materialism have sunk their toothy jaws into the flesh of the church, and like rabid pit bulls, they won’t let go until we stop struggling. We’re just twitching a little. It won’t be long now.

We give, help others, love, when it doesn’t hurt. We sacrifice only when it’s not a sacrifice. What would David think? (2 Samuel 24:24) Individualism has swallowed the church whole, the digestive process breaking it down into non-functioning pieces. The church doesn’t function as it should when we separate ourselves. We are all members of one body, and the body needs all its parts to function properly.

Pride makes us hide our faults and alienate others because of theirs. We ought to be loving each other through them.

According to 2002 Barna Group research, “More than two out of three adults and more than four out of five teenagers argue that truth is always relative to the individual and the circumstances. While most of these people describe themselves as followers of Christ and say that the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings, they nevertheless believe that truth is based on feelings, experience or emotion.” If we each make our own truth, how can we hold to a faith that says, “No one comes to the Father but through me?” We’ve allowed this relativism to seep into the foundation of our faith, making our faith meaningless.

What does this mean for upcoming generations? In the January-February 2008 issue of Relevant – a magazine targeted toward college students and twenty-somethings – 53% of those polled said a Christian can support abortion rights. Thirty-seven percent said that gay rights is the least important issue for presidential policy. Only 22% said that abortion was the most important issue for presidential policy. (Illegal immigration took the top spot with 39%.)

Whether these are key issues for you or not, consider that issues like abortion and gay rights have been tent pole political issues for conservative Christians and the religious right for years. It would seem – based on this unofficial survey – that these views are beginning to shift. Our entrenchment in individualistic, consumerist American culture has given the next generation permission to embrace that which we condemn.

If Lot thought it was okay to give his daughters to a gang of rapists, and his daughters thought incest was okay, what will our children believe?