The razor sharp barbed-wire ran the length of the pasture that divided our land from the neighbor, and ended at the Shenandoah River. The fence wasn’t very high–just the right height to hit a cow on her side and send a jolt of electricity through her, along with some pain from the barbs. The babes learned quickly to stay far away, but the moms seemed to think it a challenge to see if they could eat as much grass under the bottom wire without touching their noses to the shiny metal that would cause an immediate, very unpleasant, sensation.
On this particular day the electric was cut off. Of course the cows didn’t know this–like Pavlov’s dog, they had been conditioned by experience to avoid getting shocked. My son, a high-school weight lifter and Track & Field athlete, yelled, “I’m going to jump the wire!” as he ran toward the property fence line. The fact that he ran hurdles for his school, and was on his way to the State Championship, didn’t faze me. He was going to jump, therefore I would jump. I was going to show him I could follow him and do what he did despite our thirty-seven years age difference.
Five seconds later I writhed on the ground, my leg twisted in the barbed wire, blood pouring out of gashes from my knee down to my foot. He jumped it; I tried. Big difference. Following has to be accompanied by wisdom.
If you haven’t had time, stop for a half hour and watch the sermon from Thomas Road Baptist Church for Sunday, June 12. You will find it by clicking on http://www.trbc.org/service-archive. It would also be helpful to read Acts, chapters 1-7, and see how the early church learned to follow Christ and the principles He had given while shepherding His flock on earth.
The Following Church–What It Looked Like Then and Now
If you watched the sermon for June 5th, you saw that following Christ is a daily discipline. We looked at what a Christian really is, and asked ourselves, “Am I truly a Christian?” Hopefully, you said yes! We learned that following Christ means letting go of things in our lives that keep us from the closest possible relationship with Him. Do you have an idol in your life? Oh, it doesn’t have to LOOK like an idol: it can be a new boat, a set of golf clubs, horses to ride, a new motor home–anything that, as you get up on Sunday, you say, “Gee, this is my only day off! Let’s do ____ this week, instead of going to church.” Each time it gets easier to not congregate with other believers but live for yourself this one day of the week! That’s an idol. Something that takes the place of seeking God. Something that keeps you from doing life TOGETHER with other believers.
This week we are going to look at the church in the local community, see what the early church looked like, and decide if ours is still “following” the principles outlined by those first believers. A following church is one which is characterized by being a FAMILY of God (not blood born, but Blood-bought), living out the WORD of God, being under the AUTHORITY of God, and working together on a MISSION of God. Remember last week’s caution: What the world thinks of YOU is their view of the church.
- Have you studied much of the early church? As you read through the four Gospels and the first chapters of the book of Acts, you will get some ideas of the persecution the early Christians went through. List some of them on your notebook. Tacitus, a political figure in ancient Rome, wrote: “Rome is where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.” Sounds much like today, doesn’t it?
- Despite the persecution, the early church grew by leaps and bounds. Beginning with the twelve, then adding daily, by the end of Acts there were about 200,000 Christians and 10 million by 300 AD. They were able to have this impact on their communities because they were truly following Christ. Look up these passages and write down the characteristic of the believers in each verse that outsiders saw in their behavior: Acts 2:37; 2:47; 4:13; 4:13, 31; 4:21; 4:32; 4:33; 4:33. Did you write down “convicting; favored; amazing; bold; glorifying; generous; grace; and power”? Those are awesome testimonies that they showed to their world. How do you show those qualities as you go through your daily week?
- As time passed, people from other religious groups began to fear the Christians more and more. Why do you think this happened? Read Ephesians 6:12. As the church grew, Satan’s kingdom was coming under fire. He had not at that time read the end of John’s Revelation and perhaps didn’t know he was losing the battle! Anytime truth comes into the picture against lies, there will be a battle. How do you see this happening around you today?
- Read Acts 1:22, 4:13, 22. Why was the early church so powerful? Read Romans 5:5. Do we have this same power? How much of the Holy Spirit do we receive when we ask Jesus to be our Savior and Lord? If we have the same amount of the power of the Holy Spirit within us, why do we fail to tell the world?
- Read Acts 1:14. What was another characteristic of the early believers? How much time each day do you spend in prayer? Read Ephesians 6:18. What were Paul’s instructions? J. B. Johnston wrote: “A church is never more like the New Testament church than when it is praying.”
If you are using this for a weekly Bible study, doing a question each day, think this week about the persecution the early church went through and liken it to today’s world. We must never forget that we have ALL of the power of the Holy Spirit within us, to help us as we face temptation, avoid evil and overcome trials. Think how your testimony reflects on the church you go to: is the world forming an opinion that your church is loving, serving, giving, and living as Christ gave Himself for her? What problems do you encounter daily, and examine if there is anything that keeps you from being bold in telling others how to find joy and peace. Pray daily for extra faith, extra vigilance, and remember to intercede for lost loved ones!
In AD 130, an Epistle written to a man name Diognetes was a beautiful tribute to the early church, and should be able to be said of us: “They [true believers] display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life… They marry, as do all others, they beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and restored to life. They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks, yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word–what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.”
Would that those words could describe each of us!
Have a beautiful week!