I spent my childhood longing to explore the world outside my small, farming community in Nebraska. I tried to “play it safe” before attempting new ventures. Careful planning was a key element in any foray. Here are a few examples: I attended a large university where I knew no one; I traveled four weeks in Europe by myself; I tried to be a productive artist (painter) in isolation; and I moved to Washington, D.C. where I knew only one person. By that time I was 23, and after my planning had taken several wrong turns, I was depressed and ready for significant change. That change was following Jesus.
God immediately blessed me by connecting me to hospitable Christians who were not “playing it safe”. Their hospitality challenged me, helping me grow.
Like my hospitable Christian friends, these early Christians sound reckless.
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, (Acts 2:44-46 ESV)
What prepared these early believers for this largesse? Maybe experiences like this:
And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 15:33-38 ESV)
I imagine Jesus’ disciples…ready to “play it safe”… guarding their stash of bread and fish, thinking it wasn’t relevant to providing a meal for that huge crowd. Their protective instincts were heightened by the fact the crowd was overwhelmingly large and composed mostly of Gentiles. Holy Spirit hospitality wasn’t yet embedded into their radar. But this event and others factored into their perspective when the events of Acts 2 rolled around.
Let me relate their changed mindset to my experience.
Early in my walk with Christ, I was encouraged by the invitation of a particularly hospitable Christian couple who made me part of their family. I lived with them, they employed me, and we did ministry together. They not only welcomed me (the normal person who paid rent) but many others while I was with them. Some had strange faith, some had weird behavior, and some only offered need.
Sometimes I wanted to guard my “stash” and gain a sense of normalcy with a cozy circle of predictable Christians. But Jesus was calling me to sacrificial hospitality – not so I could get special kudos – but because others were in “such a desolate place”.
This kind of hospitality is sacrificial because it can’t be repaid. In Matthew 15 Jesus asked his disciples to relinquish all they had to eat. They then saw this generosity multiplied, not for personal benefit, but to further God’s kingdom.
Are we holding back our stash and playing it safe from those in desolate places? Let us allow the Holy Spirit to continue calling us into the partnership of his generous, sacrificial hospitality.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:9-13 NIV
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 NIV
In July 2018 my daughter spent a day preparing food for a young singles group outdoor picnic. It was scheduled to be dinner at Clement Park. In typical Colorado fashion, we loaded all the food in our car and got about 10 minutes from our house when the skies opened up with one of the worst gully washer rain and hail storms I have ever experienced. After pulling over to the side of the road, because I could not see to drive, and several phone calls between us and the leader of the group, we decided to turn around, go home, and invite all the young people to an evening of worship, sharing and dinner at our home.
As I navigated Littleton Boulevard, which was more of a river than a street at the time, my mind raced. I was thinking of how we could get our home ready for 20 or more young people with about 10-15 minutes notice. I imagine Martha may have had similar thoughts. I was thinking “where are the chairs?”, “should we set up outside?” Then I panicked thinking that my house was NOT company ready. Perhaps you have felt this way? But – then a calm set in, because I realized, the young people just wanted somewhere to gather. The food was already prepared, we simply needed to set up some chairs and tables outside, and everything would be fine.
The purpose of the gathering at Martha’s home was to see Jesus, hear his teaching, and be in His presence. Similarly, at our impromptu picnic, the rain stopped, the young people shared a meal, sang worship songs together, and enjoyed fellowship with each other. About 30 people gathered at our home that evening, including Joel, whose wheelchair my husband and his mom managed to get into our backyard so he could join everyone else. Our son Joshua was watching Clifford on his TV, and the young Rosenberger children joined him – it was a sweet time of children being entertained together.
As we gather this summer – let’s take advantage of these opportunities. Ask Jesus – what is your purpose in this gathering? What do you want me to focus on and what might not be so important? Who would you want me to invite? True hospitality needn’t be planned to the last detail. Be available, be willing, be welcoming, be hospitable.
There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were blown away. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?”
Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs.
“They’re speaking in our mother tongues, describing God’s mighty works!”
That day about three thousand took him [Peter} at his word, and were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
(Acts 2: 1-11, 41-42) The Message Bible
I’ve had experience at retreats where several hundred people were invited to pray out loud simultaneously with each other. It’s quite a sound; praise and petition rising up with many voices as a single unit.
In my research on the way people prayed during the time mentioned in verse 42, that’s what would have happened. The difference? Many languages at the same time instead of mostly one. Quite a sound.
Trying to imagine a time when people walked, maybe hundreds of miles, to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for a feast, in this case, the Feast of Pentecost is hard for us. Also, in our time and culture, it is hard to imagine when all teaching/preaching was oral, with no teaching tools, sound augmentation, or note taking means to aid remembering. Repetition of the message, careful listening, and living examples would be essentials that would enable the pilgrims to take the message and their experiences back to their own country, And that was what took place during the time they were there.
There would be much to teach these people and I am convinced the one thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them would be top priority. And that is how to pray. Luke 11:1 records one of the disciples saying, “Lord teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.” In Matthew 6:5-9, Jesus teaches how not to pray. What Jesus taught in both Luke and Matthew was what we call the, “Lord’s Prayer.” I can imagine how revolutionary it would be for those pilgrims to be taught to pray to God as Father.
This week take some time to imagine what it would be like to be one of the crowd who heard for the first time what Peter and the other apostles were teaching about life in Jesus Christ and how Jesus taught us to pray.
What really tugs my heart; we will spend eternity worshiping with them in the presence of the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit!!
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 NIV
Dr. Luke often begins a topic with a summary statement and then expounds on one or more of the details included in that statement. He began the book of Acts by describing Jesus, “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,’” Acts 1:3-5. Luke told us of a gathering, around a meal, where Jesus taught the disciples and encouraged them about the coming Holy spirit.
In Acts 2:42-47 Luke described the day-to-day activities, spiritual practices and the gatherings of the very early Christian church members. He told us – as they gathered together, “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles,” Acts 2:43. For example, a crippled man was healed by Peter and John in Acts 3:1-11. Luke again summarizes about signs and wonders in Acts 5:12-16. He told us many people were being healed and, “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number,” Acts 5:14.
Luke goes on to tell us of Phillip’s actions and the results in Acts 8:4-8, and of many priests and others coming to know Jesus as their Messiah in Acts 6:7. The gathering together of the believers, the unity among them, and the way they shared everything with those who were in need is described in detail in Acts 4:32-37. People were attracted to this movement and many came to know Jesus as Messiah.
We also are encouraged to, “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching,” in Hebrews 10:24-25. The gathering together for Fellowship among the early church often accompanied miracles, signs and wonders. The Holy Spirit was present and working in people, then and now. Are you regularly attending a gathering of believers? If not, I encourage you to do that.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock in Denver, you’ve heard the Denver Broncos football team has finally acquired a competent quarterback after years of subpar choices. Sportscasters are now sprinkling their commentaries with talk about a potential Super Bowl victory. Every player (a superstar in the making) is being analyzed and their abilities are projected for the coming season.
How does this remind me of the early days of the Church in the book of Acts? Here are some similarities: electric excitement, gathering together for strategy sessions, being wowed by the skills and intelligence of players, shared meals, interviews highlighting how victory has now emerged from defeat, declaring love for being part of the team, and letting interested outsiders know why future glory could arise.
But, just like the Broncos’ formation of a reassembled and newly supplemented team with a bevy of new coaches, most of the early days of the Church in Acts 1 and 2 depict activity prior to facing very formidable opponents – it was still the pre-pre season.
The early Church’s basic activities are described above in Acts 2:42. Are those four elements (teaching, fellowship, common meals, and prayer) a magic formula that will ensure a particular group of believers will win the Church Super Bowl over and over again?
No football player, even if he is a superb athlete, can become polished in his position on a team without devotion to “the playbook” designed by the coaches. Likewise, devotion to Jesus’ teaching is one central feature of the Church that has led to forming a strong body (or team)…a body prepared to successfully meet inevitable opponents.
Sound teaching is essential to building a growing, persevering Church. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John warned against false teachers and encouraged sound doctrine (Matthew 7:15-20, Acts 20:29, 1 Timothy 6:3, 2 John 1:9, Titus 1:9)…and sometimes stated outright that teaching centered around God’s interests is difficult to maintain.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
…there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them, the way of truth will be blasphemed. (2 Peter 2:1-2)
So a clear understanding of Jesus’ words is one of the main components of a healthy, overcoming Church – one of the ways we host the presence of God in our midst and gain strength to do our part in building the Kingdom of God.
As you prepare to meet with other believers, friends, coworkers, and family this summer, seek ways to “set your table” to welcome the presence and wisdom of our Master and King.