Just Give Me the Book of Acts


Cerulean Sanctum has been quiet lately. Truth is, that quiet reflects the disquiet I have in my own spirit.

I don’t know how most people live, but I guess they erect filters to keep the madness out. Head down, nose clean, and a gracious nod to the status quo. Don’t get too involved. Keep emotions stifled. And for heaven’s sake, don’t go around poking sleeping bears with a stick.

Which makes me wonder if I have a screw loose, because I keep my pointy stick close by.

Frankly, I’m pretty much fed up with American Christianity. I’m certainly not angry with Jesus. By no means! But I feel helpless as I watch people who claim to be Christians go off the rails. I’m not a perfect saint, but it continues to horrify me how badly some Christians have brainwashed themselves into ways of thinking that in no way reflect anything I read in the Bible. I’m not talking about the obvious heretics, either, but people with a platform and a loud microphone, blog, or publisher, who disseminate stuff that only serves to diminish the Church. They may look like they’re serving the saints, but in all likelihood they are actually preaching some sliced-up gospel that bears no resemblance to the real one. And many of these people continue to be considered the be all and end all of Christianity in North America.

I’m convinced that our collective maintenance of the status quo enables us to read the Scriptures and not have them affect us one iota. I witness how some folks read the Bible and it blows my mind that passages that should explode everything a person believes don’t even register.

I dare each person reading this today to sit down this week and read the Book of Acts, preferably in one sitting. I’m not talking about an in-depth study, but just read the book.

Now I ask you: Does what you just read in Acts depict today’s Church? If not, why not?

I’ve been reading Acts with my son, and what continually hits me is how far we are from being that kind of vibrant, miraculous, committed Church.

I mean, I read Christian blogs and books today that tell you and me how weak and sinful we are and that what we have today is better than what the Church had back then.

I call shenanigans on those people.

Stop making excuses for faithlessness! Stop telling us how sinful and weak we are, and start preaching the full gospel that we believers are now new creations, seated in the heavenly places with Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit to do even greater things than Jesus did.

That’s in the Book, folks, but some people just can’t deal with truth.

It makes me crazy that some people can tell me with straight face that God has given us something better today than what those folks had back then.

Really? Makes me want to know if they have ever read the Book of Acts.

“Oh, that’s just descriptive, not prescriptive,” they’ll say.

You know what I say? “Stop doubting and start believing.”

I find it insane that the same people who will denigrate personal experience when it comes to anything related to the practice of the Faith will run immediately to their own personal experiences when confronted by biblical realities and practices they reject. 'Blind Woman' by Paul StrandThey claim to uphold biblical truth, yet their double standard condemns their rhetoric.

There’s not a Christian on this continent,  no matter which denomination or sect he or she endorses, who hasn’t turned a blind eye to some part of Acts. Some people gloss over the charismata, some the community, some the evangelism, some the commitment and martyrdom. Simply put, we as a Church in North America do not want to peer into Acts and deal with what we read there.

I don’t understand the kind of  half-baked “church” some people endorse. Especially when their “church” doesn’t look anything like the one depicted in Acts.

I’m sick of those who ignore parts of the Scriptures because that’s what they’ve been taught to do. I’m sick of playing at Church rather than actually being the same kind of Church we see in the Book of Acts.

Keep your blogs, your books, your podcasts, and your pieced-together rhetoric. Just give me the Book of Acts.

YOU Feed Them


Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish–unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
—Luke 9:12-17

I’ve probably heard more sermons on the feeding of the 5,000 than just about any other miracle in the Bible. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon on the aspect of it I’m going to write about today.

Some people will contend that I’m critical of the Church. Fact is, I love the Church. I want to see the Church be all she can be, because I know that when she walks in the fullness of her beauty, she takes on the transcendence of her Lover and the world around her transforms.

Which is why I am so crestfallen when I hear Christian people tell me how they are suffering in the midst of the plenty that is their own local church. Basket of breadI hear from people with basic needs that any person in the church could meet with a modicum of effort, yet that need goes unfulfilled.

Honestly, I can think of few things more crushing to the spiritual life of another than to sit in church on Sunday and hear a sermon on God’s bounty, surrounded by people who are abounding, but not being one of them.

Increasingly, there exists a Christian rhetoric that states, I don’t have to do anything to help you because God will help you on His own, if someone prays hard enough. The problem is that the more I read the Scriptures, the more I’m convinced that mentality is the exact opposite of what God is trying to tell us about the way He works.

In the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke, Jesus makes—what is to me, at least—one of the most startling statements in the New Testament. The disciples, sensitive to the growing need of the crowd for food, alert Jesus to the problem, but He responds that the disciples should feed them. Almost instantly, the excuses start.

How the rest of the miracle unfolds is also telling. It happened while the disciples finally did the work that Jesus requested. As they handed out the food from the baskets, the miracle progressed. It didn’t happen before the work. In other words, Jesus didn’t make extra baskets of food materialize at His feet before the dazzled onlookers. Only as the disciples walked from person to person handing out food did the true nature of the miracle unfold. Jesus asked them to feed the crowd, and they did.

We gloss over that the disciples were active participants in the work of meeting the needs of others. The disciples were partners in the miracle.

Paul writes:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
—Romans 10:14-15

In short, the Lord wants the Gospel to go out, and it goes out because a real person delivers it. No one will hear unless a flesh and blood human does the work.

Paul also writes this:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
—2 Corinthians 5:20a

The king empowers an ambassador to be his full representative. An ambassador can make decisions and perform actions as if the king himself were making or performing them. The king’s decree and charge make that power possible.

This comes by the Holy Spirit living in us. A couple verses before, Paul wrote this:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
—2 Corinthians 5:17-19

Note well that final phrase.

Paul also writes:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
—2 Corinthians 3:18

The new birth and our transformation into Christ’s fullness make it possible for us to be ambassadors.

2 Corinthians 5 concludes with this amazing statement:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
—2 Corinthians 5:21

Christian, you are the righteousness of God! Wherever you go, you are His salt, His light, His full representative, His very image.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
—2 Timothy 3:16-17

…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
—Philippians 2:13

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
—Ephesians 2:10

Are we walking in those good works that God prepared beforehand?  Are we seeing the need and filling it because God has equipped us to meet needs because He Himself lives in us? Or are we reading the Bible just to fill our heads with more knowledge about work we aren’t doing?

This passage is telling:

And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
—Acts 3:2-8

What is notably absent from that healing and the way Peter and John worked? I’ll let you think about that for a while.

God intends for us Spirit-filled believers to do the work. We’re already equipped. We’re already charged.

But Dan, what about these?

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
—John 15:5

But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
—Luke 18:27

Folks, these two verses are the poster children for misapplying Scripture and for making excuses for dumping all the responsibility back on God to make anything happen.

The truth is that God lives in you. He is always in you. Where you go, He is. You are the righteousness of God. Anything is possible because God is working through you.

There is NEVER a reason for a fellow believer to be in want. NEVER. If a local church contains people with plenty and people in want, there’s only one word for that church: Ichabod. The glory has departed.

This issue makes me angry. It makes me furious when the Church has been equipped, approved, and charged with the task by God, yet the people in the Church won’t do the work. They throw it back in God’s lap and ask Him to do the work for them instead. As I see it, that’s a complete dismissal of our identity in Christ and a rejection of the Holy Spirit in us.

How ironic that we abort our responsibility when confronted with people in need, yet what follows are the first things the newly Spirit-filled Church did:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 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.
—Acts 2:42-45

If God puts someone with a legitimate need before me, there’s nothing for me to pray about. I already know what to do. I’m to do the work and meet the need as best I can in light of all that Christ has given to me and done for me. And if the need is too great, then I pull the rest of the Church in and we meet the need. When we do the work because we have the faith and the equipping for it, then the miracle will progress through us because of what Christ has already done in us.

If we learn no other truth this year, that one will be enough.

The Church Beyond the Cross


Sun & CrossIf you were to ask me what day in the Christian calendar grabs my attention the most, I would have to say Good Friday. Something about that day lays hold of my heart and gets me thinking about the things of Christ, even more so than Easter. (I suspect that is largely due to my upbringing.)

When I enter the online Christian world, one reality hits me time and again:  The top Christian blogs present solid cross-centered theology. In an age of Your Local Nondenominational Community Megachurch and its emphasis on showmanship and “what’s in it for me?” churchianity, that’s a good thing.

Yet at the risk of sounding heretical, I wonder if there’s a shortsighted lack associated with a focus on the cross alone.

Over at The Sola Panel, Gordon Cheng titles a post “Too Much Cross of Christ?” and calls on John Stott to help him with his answer, which is no. (HT: Challies)

That answer to the post title troubles me because it follows from a different question than the one Cheng actually addresses in his blog post, especially when he answers in light of a teaching and preaching emphasis. The question he is really asking is “Can the cross be too essential to the core of Christian theology?” That’s a solid no; obviously, much of our theology stems from an understanding of sin and the cross. The problem is that it is not the same question as Cheng asks in his blog post title.

We live in an age soft on sin. Despite this, many parts of the Church today are stuck on sin. Believers are constantly reminded that they are sinners in need of salvation. Reminding people of the necessity of the cross is a fine message, but is it the only one?

To me, some churches live as if it were always Good Friday and never Easter and Pentecost. As lamented by the inhabitants of Narnia, winter seems to have a perpetual grip on the land, unthawed by springtime and rebirth. Some preachers and teachers capably get people to the cross, but they can’t seem to get them to the empty tomb and to the assembling place where Holy Fire fell from heaven. In that light, the answer to whether we can have too much cross of Christ may very well be yes.

Without the resurrection, Paul writes that our faith is in vain and we are men most pitied (1 Cor. 15:1-22).

Without Pentecost, there is no Church and no empowering of the saints for service (see the entire book of Acts).

So it seems to me that while the Christian faith begins at Good Friday, it continues on and on in Pentecost.

Why then do our churches often fail so badly to venture beyond the cross? Why are so many of us still rooted in our identities as sinners and not in the new birth identity of saint?

Consider this passage:

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
—2 Corinthians 3:7-18

I am troubled by some denominations and Christian thought-groups that fail to teach believers that they are daily transitioning from sinners into saints. Such pew-dwellers repeatedly hear how they are mired in sin, but they never hear that as the redeemed they are being transformed from one degree of glory into another. In fact, in churches that never seem to venture beyond the cross, one must ask if they are even a New Testament church at all.

In some circles where the sinner mentality reigns, their pneumatology appears rooted more in the Old Testament than New. The radical reality of the New Testament is that the Holy Spirit of God comes to dwell inside the redeemed believer. Such was not the case with the Old Testament heroes of the faith. The Holy Spirit would fall on them for a time, but the permanent dwelling inside was reserved for the New Testament saint.

Some Christians have this tendency to continue to place God solely outside the believer. This is an Old Testament kind of thinking, though. It gives the individual believer no authority. All things supernatural that happen do so despite the believer, not because of the believer. It creates a worldview where the Church does not matter because God can do it all Himself.

There is no doubt that God can do it all Himself. The reality is that He chooses NOT to do it that way. Instead, He invest authority in believers by virtue of His own Spirit dwelling inside them. This is the exciting—and essential—truth of what it means to be in Christ!

The ramifications of this are astonishing: The lowliest New Testament saint is greater than the greatest Old Testament prophet (see Luke 7:27-28 and throughout the NT for corroboration).

When was the last time you got that sermon in church? How many Christian blogs discuss this reality at length?

If the answers to those questions trouble you, they should. This lack is largely due to the fact that we have an underdeveloped understanding of what it means to be Spirit-filled believers. And we have that lack because we are not preaching and teaching what exists beyond the cross: the resurrection, Pentecost, the transition of the sinner into sainthood, and the authority of the redeemed believer in Christ. Instead, we continue to push a theology that keeps the believer a meaningless, individual sinner and not a saint.

Consider this passage:

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”
—Acts 19:11-15

How is it that the demon recognized Paul? Because Paul had authority as a saint in the Kingdom of God. Consider the depth of what that means!

When that same Paul wrote to the young churches, he greeted them as fellow saints, not as fellow sinners. He talked about how they had all once been slaves to sin but were now translated into the Kingdom of God where they were now saints entrusted with the Spirit of God.

For the Church to truly rise to the calling of Christ, we need not only the cross but the resurrection and Pentecost. We need our preachers and teachers to tell the people in the seats that “sinner” is not their final identification. We need to learn what it means to have authority in Christ because He makes His home inside us. We need to know the full breadth of our birthright because of what the cross won for us, not just for the sin Christ took away from us.

We can have no pure Christian theology without the essential of the cross! But the cross is not the sole essential. Resurrection and empowerment by the Holy Spirit spring from the cross. And if we fail to teach and live what comes beyond the cross, we will fail to be the Church of Jesus Christ.