Thursday, July 3, 2014

All who believed were together...

An explosion had taken place in first-century Israel, that was about to set fire to the rest of the world.  A group of believers had decided without a doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was God, the Son of God, their long awaited Messiah.  He had done what none of them expected.  Instead of establishing a physical kingdom on earth and driving out the Romans, He established a spiritual kingdom that had far more power than any puny earthly empire.  Jesus as God and as man, had died, destroyed the kingdom of hell, and had risen victorious to lead everyone who followed Him to a life of victory over evil, and eternal life.

So this bunch of people that were gathering together in the book of Acts, were so convinced that this Jesus that some had met personally and others had just heard of, was worth living for and dying for. Many of them were murdered because of that conviction.  They all had lives of their own, families, farms and businesses, but Acts 2 says that they gathered together with such eagerness to learn more, to pray, to be together in one accord.  They sold properties and possessions because they had found what Jesus had referred to as the treasure in a field.  The treasure of this new life was so powerful that it was worth giving everything for.

The Early Church was a bunch of rag-tag believers who God turned into a fearless force to tear down the strongholds of Satan wherever they lived and died.  They came from different backgrounds and cultures but their common Enemy kept them united.  Though they were sinful and had plenty of problems (as the New Testament shows pretty plainly) they preferred to die for their Lord than to deny Him and escape persecution.

Do we have that zeal today?  Do we have that commitment to "have each others' backs" like the first Christians did?  If we don't, it's because we don't know that we are all bound together by a common Enemy who is out to torture and kill.  We don't see our authority or power in this world the way Satan sees it.  He knows what damage we could inflict on him, and so he soothes us with comforting feelings that we don't need to be so extreme, so fanatical in our faith.  We are warriors with nuclear capabilities, spiritually speaking, but are lulled into a stupor by the comforts and distractions of our busy lives.

C.S. Lewis says it so perfectly in his book, "The Screwtape Letters," where an elder demon is instructing his young nephew on how to destroy the life of a newly converted Christian. (Side note: the "Enemy" is God, and "Our Father Below," Satan.) Written in England in the 1940's, it speaks directly to us right now.

"One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neightbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces on the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy’s side. No matter. Your patient, thanks to Our Father Below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous." 

Let's stop wasting time picking at each other's differences and irritations, allowing ourselves to become spiritually weak and flabby.  Let's see ourselves as members of God's true Church, rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners, because when we truly believe, that is exactly what we are.

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