Volume 1, Issue 9
April 13, 2009

“Alright, Class! You all read the article about the guy in town looking for the church, right? The one where he is directed to the “Alabaster Grill: Food and Spirits,” Did you all read that?”

Everyone except Diedre raised their hands and nodded their heads.

“And, did you also read the whole books of Acts, Luke’s letter to Theophilus? Remember, I assigned that as a reading also?”

Most of the class, including Diedre, raised their hands this time. Several did not.

“OK. So, let’s talk about these two writings. What thoughts did you have while reading and after reading and reflecting on what you read? Be really honest. Let’s have a solid discussion about the church.”

Remington started the discussion. “The guy writing the article didn’t seem like he was really fair. You know, he didn’t go visit the churches in that town. All he did was report what the people at the “Grill” said about them. Is that fair?”

Nancy chimed in: “But what they said, and what the guy on the street said, means a lot! Remember, Jesus said that they would know who his disciples were if they loved each other like he loved them. So, if nobody in town knew about their love, then perhaps the church didn’t exist there.”

“Or maybe, just maybe, they were hiding their light under a basket.” This from Peg. “But that wouldn’t be good, either, would it?”

“What if the true church wasn’t in that town?” Diedre posed. “You know the church doesn’t exist in every town. There are lots of denominations, but the true church hasn’t grown to be in all towns.”

“Should we ask the person who wrote the article for the names of all the churches that were there! Would that let us know if the church really existed there?” Bill was a little caustic with his replying questions.

“Don’t you believe there is only one real, true church, Bill?” Diedre blurted.

“LET’S BRIng it back to topic, here,” Leonard suggested to redirect the line of thinking. “I know this can become a little emotional, so let’s practice, right here, a little of the love that Jesus demonstrated. He loved those twelve men absolutely, even though they didn’t understand yet and would do unthinkable things that very night. So, I’m thinking we should be able to show a little respect and patience with one another!”

Leonard suggested, “Why don’t we talk about Acts for a little while? What did you see there that would help with this subject?”

“Well, there wasn’t any competition. Like, there were no other churches. It was Jews, Gentiles, and believers,” Randy offered.

“Good observation, Randy. What else?”

“It seemed really…uh…uh, natural. Those believers were really committed to one another and to Jesus. It didn’t seem forced or regimented or anything like that,” Bill injected. “Maybe Randy is on to something there. The church wasn’t competing with look-alikes, it was in conflict with clearly defined differences.”

“Yes, but the Jews saw the Christians as really far out! I mean, like enemies!”

“What made the church distinctive in the letter of Acts?” Leonard was redirecting again.

“I think it was distinctive because all they wanted to talk about was the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. They keep on talking about how he fulfilled the prophets and how he was the one their fathers had been looking for. It was also distinctive because it showed the world around them they were not afraid and that anything they had was there for the benefit of others who might need it. And, they were willing to suffer for their convictions,” Walt offered.

“So, let’s summarize how the early church loved one another. I’ll write down on the board here the things you offer. Just blurt them out.”

“Shared their stuff!”

“Ate together all the time.”

“Prayed together a lot!”

“Refused to stop talking about Jesus.”

“Used the power of the Spirit to help others and to be able to teach.”

“They were willing to go a long ways to talk to others about Jesus.”

“When they suffered because they told others about Jesus, they rejoiced and kept talking.”

“Their homes were open to each other all the time.”

“The apostles kept on sharing their knowledge with the church and with others.” “They dealt with sin right away.”

Leonard stopped his writing. “Why…don’t we…talk about that one for a bit? What did you have in mind when you said ‘they dealt with sin right away’?”

It was Diedre. “Well, I was thinking of Ananias and Sapphira. When they lied about their giving, they paid right away.”

Loving the challenge as a sport, Bill responded to Diedre, “Some love that was!”

Sensing the possibilities, Leonard broadened the scope of the discussion entries: “What do the rest of you think, Class? Was Peter’s dealing with Ananias and Sapphira a way of showing the love of Jesus?”

“It didn’t look very loving so far as Ananias and Sapphira were concerned!”

“Yeah! How can killing someone be an act of love?”

“But the result of Ananias and Sapphira’s deaths was that the church grew by leaps and bounds! Maybe that was the ‘love’ angle. People got the message that God doesn’t mess around with those he loves and he is interested in the greater good. So…love includes discipline, strong discipline when it is needed. Lying to the Holy Spirit of God is not something to be taken lightly. Is that it, Leonard?”

“Well, it certainly makes it clear that ‘love out of a pure heart and a good conscience and unpretended faith’ is what God wants. He doesn’t just want a show of love which is aimed at making the ‘lover’ look good! God wants the real thing,” Leonard responded thoughtfully. “So, was that a turning point in defining ‘the church’ in the letter of Acts?”

“I’m not sure it was a turning point. I remember that Jesus loved Judas Iscariot, too, but didn’t stop him from doing what he did and killing himself as a result! Jesus warned him, but didn’t stop him. So, I kind of think that the discipline idea has been there all along. Luke just interwove it with the rest of what faithfulness is when wrote his letter to Theophilus. Maybe God wants us to realize that there is a whole to the church being the church. There will always be those who have imperfect and wrong motives, just like there will always be those who have good and pure motives.”

Leonard grasped the opportunity, “Do you think that there will always be pretenders and misled religious people? Do you think there will always be those who are willing to settle for something imitation in place of the real thing? Do you think there will be people who adopt the good and necessary things of Christianity but not the faith of Christ? Is that, perhaps, what was happening at the “Alabaster Grill”?

“Is that why the church is not clearly defined today?” Bill asked.

Leonard responded quickly, “Well, that may be one answer, Bill. If people settle for imitating what is close around them or what they have inherited, rather than truly looking to God for what God wants, what will they produce? Do you remember the birds?”

“The birds?” many in class parroted.

“Yes, the birds! Jesus told a parable about the mustard seed that grew into the largest of trees – and the birds came and made their nests in the branches. There are many who, seeing the kingdom among them have only made use of the branches. They haven’t become a part of the tree but they sure are glad to have the influence, the shade and the resting place, there in their presence.

“Now, let’s talk about the ‘Alabaster Grill’ for a minute just before class runs out. We’ll have to talk about all of this again and go further, but for now, think about this: Those people shared their lives frequently. They looked out for one another. They provided when there were real needs. They got to know one another to some level of intimacy. Did that make them God’s people? What one thing did they lack? What did the birds lack? Was the ‘Alabaster Grill’ a substitute for the church in that town? Or was it a gleaming reminder to those who would take note that the church was failing to offer what the community needed?

“Was that community hamstrung because God’s people were either not there or were not living up to what they should have been? Can the local bar and grill ever be a good substitute for God’s holy nation, God’s household, God’s family?”

Hamstrung – To disable by cutting the great tendon at the back of the hock; cripple; to render powerless or useless; thwart.


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