Welcome to Leaving LaodiceaThe Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church
Today is day four in our 40 day adventure.
For the last couple of months I have been preaching about the Holy Spirit and His gifts, focusing on John 14 and 1 Corinthians 12-14, but specifically on 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. We have asked the Lord to show us what these gifts mean, are they all still operating in the church and, if so, what does that look like today? That’s right, we’ve dealt with all the controversial topics that tend to divide the body of Christ: second filling, baptism of the Spirit, Cessationism vs. Continuationism, the five-fold ministry, tongues and the interpretation of tongues, the role of apostles and prophets, if any, today, what is a word of knowledge and word of wisdom, and all the other crazy, scary stuff. It’s been quite an eye opening experience to see, not what I was taught in Seminary or grew up believing in a Southern Baptist church, but what the Scriptures actually teach regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in His church back then, as well as today.
Naturally, in the course of this study on the Holy Spirit, we moved to the Acts to see how this was played out in the early church in real time. Last Sunday we preached about Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:14-39) and the amazing results of a 297 word message, excluding Scriptures, that was empowered by the very Spirit they received a few verses earlier (Acts 2:1-4). The Promise of the Father was given (Acts 1:4), and 3,000 people joined the 120 in faith in the risen Lord Jesus.
What an amazing day that must have been.
But now what? How do these 3,000 new believers, many from areas outside of Jerusalem (Acts 2:5-11), grow in their new faith? What are they to do? Where do they go? How do they learn? There would be so many questions each of them had. Where would they go to find the answers?
If they returned back home to Egypt or Rome, for example (Acts 2:10), who would disciple them? Who would teach them truth from error? They would be the only ones in their country that had received salvation as evidenced by the giving of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). No one carried the light of Christ to their families and friends but them. No one was to speak into the darkness but them. They were alone. Uncertain. Literally babes in the midst of Jewish wolves. By returning home they were, in effect, being sent out as missionaries to tell others about the new life found in Christ— the Christ whom they knew nothing about other than what Peter had preached, and what they were just now discovering for themselves.
It was a recipe for colossal failure. Much like sending an eight year old to convince an atheist University professor of the validity of the New Testament text. They were vastly outgunned and woefully inexperienced in the things of Christ. They needed a time to grow, to mature, to understand what just happened to them. They needed time to come to grips with their faith in the Lord Jesus, and what that faith meant from that moment forward.
A New Home
So, most likely, many of them stayed. Where else were they to go to hear about the “wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11).
Once, after Jesus proclaimed His unpopular, politically incorrect truth about the kingdom of God that offended the half-committed, many of His followers “went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:65). Jesus had been telling them about the all-consuming relationship they were to have with Him. This new life they had experienced, this born-again reality was not like going to the synagogue once a week to dance around their Jewish maypole, feel good for a moment or two, faithfully perform their religious duty, and then go back to life as usual.
This was different.
Religion tries to make us feel good about ourselves by following some man-made ritual that, at least on the outside, makes us look better than we were before— especially when we compare ourselves with ourselves or with others who are struggling like us.
But this was different. Completely different.
What Jesus came to bring was a totally new life. The old man, our old life, is not rehabilitated or made better, or less offensive, by Christ’s sacrifice. He is put to death. Dead and buried. Just like Christ. Jesus sees nothing in us worth bringing into the new life He’s purchased for us (Isa. 64:4). Nothing. So all of the old man, the pride, fear, lusts, wants, desires, religion, rights, needs, literally everything— dies. Everything gets buried. Everything rots. And the new man, what Paul later called the “new creation” in Christ, is born again (2 Cor. 5:17). Born anew. Born from above. Resurrected to a new life (Rom. 6:4), created in the image, or likeness of God (Eph. 4:24), and secured by the indwelling presence of God Himself— in the person of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14).
This was a message the religious crowd in Jesus’ day, and in our day, finds offensive. So they left Him to find another guru that was willing to teach what they wanted to hear, about how to have Your Best Life Now!
The best way for the early church to disciple the 3,000 who came to faith after the preaching of Peter’s sermon would be to let them learn to live like the disciples had lived for the last three years. Think about it. How did the disciples of Jesus, who had left everything to follow Him, support themselves during the time they went from city to city with Jesus? Did they take out a home equity loan on their house? Did they max out their credit cards to fund their extended mission trip? Did they cash in their 401k, take the tax hit, and continue on with their vision quest with Jesus? What did they do?
They lived by faith. Just like the early church did. Consider the following:
Acts 2:44-45 – Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
Acts 4:32-35 – Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
Did you ever wonder how that is even possible? How can we trust each other that much, like they did? Seems impossible, doesn’t it? Want to learn more about living by faith? Then keep listening.
The context of Psalm 3 deals with David’s great betrayal at the hands of his own son, Absalom, whom he dearly loved (2 Sam. 18:33). Absalom had driven his father from the holy city, Jerusalem, and was seeking to usurp his kingdom and take his life. David’s guilt as a failed father towards his rebellious son must have been unbearable. Adding to that the guilt of his own sin with Bathsheba and the murder of his close friend, and her husband, Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam. 11:15), may have caused David to feel Absalom’s actions were justified, a fitting penalty for the sins of David’s past.
The future looked bleak. There was division within his own family. To regain his kingdom he would have to wage war against his own son, forcing him to repay evil for evil to the one he loved. God was grieved and David was unsure as to what to do.
There is much for us to learn about God and our own problems in this psalm. Note, for example, what happens when we, like David, focus on our problems and what others say about our situation:
Psalm 3:1-2 – LORD, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, “There is no help for him in God.”
But now, the focus has shifted from what is before us to our God and all He has promised. You can almost feel David’s faith begin to grow:
Psalm 3:3-4 – But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the LORD with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill.
As Corrie ten Boom once said, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”
David realizes God has not abandoned him. He has cried out to his Lord, our Lord, and his voice had been heard. God was still on His throne and He still loved his son, David, no matter how desperate the circumstances. The same truth applies to each of us when we get our focus off our problems— the immediate, the overwhelming, and focus instead on what lasts— the Eternal, the Lord, the Sovereign One.
And the result of that change in focus? No more fear. Rest and peace in the face of turmoil. Confidence in Him and Him alone. “God’s got this. I’ve nothing to fear.”
Psalm 3:5-6 – I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
After all, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). Great question. Answer, no one. Not even Absalom.
This thought brings great courage to David. God is not finished with him yet. Today and tomorrow are just setbacks. But God’s plan endures to all generations.
Finally, that confidence is expressed in action. David, and each of us, find our prayers going from “Help me, please, for I am dying” to “Arise, O Lord” and do what You promised to do for your children.
Psalm 3:7-8 – Arise, O LORD; Save me, O my God! For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongs to the LORD. Your blessing is upon Your people
Did you get that? “Your (God) blessing is upon Your (God) people.”
Today is the second day of a 40 day adventure with the Lord.
Yesterday, day one, was a good day. I experienced much peace and was able to pray more than I have in a long time. It seemed like my prayers were effortless and more natural and I had a deeper sense of His presence with me. I know this is only the beginning, but I am greatly encouraged. I was able to spend more time in prayer and meditation on His Word as my mind seemed to be more in tune to spiritual things, rather than carnal things. I find it amazing that after just one day, I can already see changes in my life.
Today I arose early, a little before 6:00am. For some reason I couldn’t turn my mind off. I was thinking about our conversation yesterday, how the Lord wants to speak with each of us, with me and you, in a more personal, intimate way that maybe we have not allowed Him to do in the past. I am convinced He wants to reveal His heart to us in ways we’ve never understood or experienced before.
This is what my desire is with Him. And this is what I have been praying this time with Him will accomplish.
My Fear of the Holy Spirit
Then I started thinking about my fear of the Holy Spirit. No, you heard that right. To be completely honest, I’ve always been a little frightened of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because I don’t understand Him. I find it difficult to get close to Him. I can’t get an image of Him in my mind and He’s hard for me to relate to.
God the Father, not so much. From the Old Testament, I see Him as unapproachable, fire and smoke and thunder from Mt. Sinai erupting like an active volcano (Ex. 19:18). When I think of His voice, I see it booming from the heavens, loud, frightening, much like I viewed the Wizard of Oz when I was a young child. To me, He seems more like a boss, or a ruling monarch, and less like a father. I know much of my caricature of God is based on my own dysfunctional and somewhat abusive relationship with my own father. And I know I’ve imposed character traits and motives on Him that belonged to my earthly father, and that’s unfair and wrong. But that’s something we’ll have to talk about at another time.
Jesus, on the other hand, I understand much better. I see Him walking the dusty roads of Galilee in the New Testament and I long to be there with Him. I see Him having endless patience with people like Peter and Thomas and me. I greatly admire His compassion for the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11), and His love for the Samaritan woman He met at Jacob’s well (John 4:5-30). I wonder what it must have been like to minister with Him as He unselfishly met the needs of people He didn’t even know when He multiplied the five loaves and two fish and fed them all (Matt. 14:13-21). And I see Him encouraging His disciples into a deeper life of faith when He beckoned Peter to step out of the boat and walk on water with Him (Matt. 14:28-32).
Jesus I like. Better yet, Jesus I love and want to emulate my life after Him. I want to devote my life trying to walk like Jesus, to live like Jesus, and to love like Jesus. Why? Because He’s left me a tangible, written example of who He is in the Scriptures.
But the Holy Spirit? I’m not so sure. He’s wispy, like an apparition, and hard to get a reading on. I know He’s an equal member of the Godhead, fully God, yet I’ve always viewed Him as some sort of power that emanates from God the Father or is used by Jesus the Son. Like He was some sort of possession of the Father and the Son, and not co-equal with them.
I’m not sure why I feel that way about the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s because I have a hard time getting close to something I don’t understand. For me, at least, my mind rules most of my life and my emotions and passions are left subject to what I think. When my mother died a couple of years ago, for example, I remember sitting at my desk asking myself how I was supposed to feel about what just happened. What’s the proper emotion? In other words, I was going to mentally determine the proper response with my intellect and then allow my emotions to feel what my mind gave them permission to feel. It’s no wonder I’ve had such a hard time relating to the Holy Spirit.
So, what’s the Holy Spirit like? How can I learn to relate to the One who lives in me when I often see Him like a ghost, or something like a mist or a force that emanates from some other being— that being God.
In Acts 2, after the promised Holy Spirit came mightily upon the faithful praying in the upper room, and after Peter preached his Spirit-empowered sermon, the infant church grew from 120 to over 3,000 literally overnight. And now the apostles had a logistics problem. How were they to manage a crowd of over 3,000 newbies without the benefit of Christian literature or Lifeway, CCM, K-LOVE, God’s Not Dead 1 and 2, WinterJam, or local mega-churches with multiple, cross-town campuses? What were they to do?
The answer was simple. They were to teach their new Christian brothers exactly what Jesus spent three years teaching them— how to live by faith. That’s right, faith. Remember?
Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith (pístis) is the substance (to place under, the basis, foundation, that which underlies the apparent) of things hoped for (confident expectation, to abide still, to expect fully), the evidence (proof, conviction, assurance, supreme confidence) of things not seen.
As we dig deeper into the life of the early church, we’ll discover that faith was pretty much all they had. And it was enough for them to turn their world upside down (Acts 17:6).
Do you want to know more about what it means to live by faith? Good. Then keep listening.
When Peter stands up in the midst of the 120 and declares that Judas must be replaced, he was speaking the truth (Acts 1:20). It is true from Scripture that God intended to someday replace Judas. But that doesn’t mean it was the right time to decide who the Lord had chosen to become part of the Twelve. What happened then, and what often happens with each of us, is that we decide a course of action, present God with two options we have chosen, and then ask Him to choose which of our choices is His will. And this assumes it was His will for us to do what we’ve determined to do in the first place.
The lesson from Acts 1:15-26 is that doing the right thing, at the wrong time, is the wrong thing. Everytime. No matter how much it feels like the right thing and the right time.
And it often takes years to undo the mistakes we make for the right reason, or so we think. Remember, spiritual maturity is asking God what His will is, and not trying to force Him to choose the lesser of two evils that we have chosen. Do you want to know more about this classic error of presumption? Then keep listening.
Today is the first day of a 40 day adventure.
No, this adventure is not about a mission trip to Haiti or a hike down the Appalachian Trail. This 40 day adventure is a time specifically set aside to discover more about the Lord and to specifically learn to hear Him speak. That’s right, it’s my desire during this adventure to draw closer to the Lord than I’ve ever been before and to learn to hear His voice. I’m not talking about hearing Him speak to me through His Word, which is wonderful. But I long for something more personal, more intimate. I long to hear Him speak to me personally as He has others in Scripture, and as He has also done for me several times in the past. In fact, those time of hearing His voice are some of the high points in my spiritual life.
I know what many of you may be thinking.
“Oh, here we go again. It looks like somebody else is wanting to move beyond the sufficiency of Scripture. I guess Scripture’s not enough for Steve and now He wants more than God has already provided for him. Maybe he wants an encounter like the one described in The Shack or to hear God speak like Sarah Young claims in Jesus Calling or something like that. Doesn’t he know that God only speaks today through His Word?”
No, I don’t know that. In fact, I see many places in Scripture where God speaks to His children in other ways than through the Scriptures. Let me give you a few examples.
The Damascus Road
In Acts 9, we find Jesus verbally speaking to Paul on the Damascus Road. It wasn’t just a command or some proclamation declared from heaven. It was a conversation where both He and Paul spoke to each other. And in this conversation Jesus did not only speak through the written Word, which for Paul would have been the Old Testament. Instead, He verbally communicated His personal message and will to Paul that could not be found from reading, for example, the Psalms or Isaiah.
Acts 9:4-6 – Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
“Got it,” you say. “But that’s the apostle Paul. He was an apostle and could therefore hear God speak to him verbally in ways He doesn’t do today, to anybody, ever. You and I are not apostles. We don’t even have apostles anymore. So how God spoke to Paul back then was just for Paul— and not for us today.”
Really? So how do we explain God speaking, just a few verses later, to a non-apostle named Ananias? He was not an apostle like Paul. He was just a faithful disciple of Jesus who lived in Damascus that God had chosen for a specific task. And how was Ananias to know what specific task God had in store for him unless, somehow and in some way, God spoke to him personally.
When the 120 met together after the ascension of Jesus, there were some logistics we often overlook when considering their 240 hour prayer meeting (Acts 1:14). For example:
What about food?
Did they go home to eat several times a day?
Did someone have food catered in to them?
Did they go to Wal-Mart or McDonald’s daily?
Did their family drop off lunch bags each day?
Or did they go on an extended fast?
And if so, what was that like?
I believe it was a time of prayer and fasting— and not just prayer alone. After all, that’s what Jesus expected them to do (Matt. 6:16-18). Which raises one last question: What can fasting do for me today? Or, why should I fast since fasting seems to be passe in the church today? Consider the following:
Fasting was an expected discipline in both the Old and New Testament eras.
Fasting and prayer can restore the loss of the “first love” for your Lord and result in a more intimate relationship with Christ.
Fasting is a biblical way to truly humble yourself in the sight of God.
Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life.
Fasting will encourage the Holy Spirit to quicken the Word of God in your heart and His truth will become more meaningful to you.
Fasting can transform your prayer life into a richer and more personal experience.
Fasting can result in a dynamic personal revival in your own life and make you a channel of revival to others.
In summary, fasting opens up your spirit in ways that are hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it.
Have you ever considered adding fasting to your prayer life? You should. You really should.
As we begin to look at how the Holy Spirit moved in the lives of ordinary men in the book of Acts, we are confronted with a few questions. These questions have to do with the character of the men Jesus chose to fulfill the mandate He gave to His church. And what was that mandate?
Acts 1:8 – “But you shall receive power (dúnamis) when (what) the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Then, the first set of questions:
Has this mandate changed for the church?
Does it still apply today?
If so, how are we doing?
Have you received the power Jesus promised?
And how is that power being manifested in your life?
Do you see that kind of power in the church today?
If not, do you ever wonder why?
How would you answer these questions about the church? How would you answer the ones that are more personal in nature? The ones about you and the power, or lack of power, in your life? Do you see a disconnect between the account of the church in Acts and the place you worshipped last Sunday? Me too. But what are we going to do about it?
When we try to determine the exact day that Jesus was crucified, either Friday or Wednesday, we come face to face with an ugly fact about the history of the church. That ugly history shows the depth of the church’s hatred for the Jews during the first and second century, much like the church’s hatred of the Jews today. Church councils were called to try to determine a uniform date for Easter in order for it to not correspond with the Jewish Passover (the 14th of Nisan), even if they are, in reality, intrinsically tied together.
For example, the Council of Nicea (325 BC) unanimously ruled that the Easter festival should be celebrated throughout the Christian world on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox (March and September); and if the full moon should occur on a Sunday, and thereby coincide with the Passover festival, Easter should be commemorated on the following Sunday.
Why try so hard to make sure no Christian festival corresponds to its Jewish counterpart, even if by accident? Antisemitism. But there’s so much more to this debate. You have the two Passovers during the passion week, the rantings of Emperor Constantine, and the excommunication of the Quartodecimans. Sound intriguing? Do you want to know more? Then keep listening.
Something About Us
This is a collection of the many questions I have struggled with and the answers I have found regarding the relationship between authentic faith in Christ and much of what is portrayed today as Biblical Christianity. Especially with the coming darkness looming over all of us, including the church.
Come with me. It should be a wild ride!
To find out more about us and what we believe, just continue reading…