A Checklist of Good Stuff – Acts 2:42-47

What are the things that we are supposed to be doing as followers of Christ – both individually and then corporately together as a church? Books have been written to attempt to answer that question.

There is no single Scripture that gives us the perfect answer. And among topics addressed are usually the fruit of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, the “one another” passages of the New Testament, etc.

But we can find fewer paragraphs that combine so many ingredients as are found right here in our reading today in Acts 2:42-47. In the past when preaching on this passage, I remember entitling it “The Constituent Elements of the Church” … which is maybe a bit hyperbolic, but certainly not by much.

Consider the list:

1.  The Apostles’ Teaching – This must have been pretty amazing to hear. These guys would have been combining the Old Testament Scriptures, their three years of experiences of travelling with Jesus, along with their newly acquired empowerment of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Not bad! We all always need God’s Word and his truth.

2.  Fellowship – There is nothing quite like the camaraderie of relationship with others with whom you have shared an incredible experience. And we have that together even today in regard to our mutual salvation through the work of Christ … along with our common experiences of living together as friends in an oft hostile world.

3.  The Breaking of Bread – This was more than simply sharing meals together, as it would be speaking of the communion element of the church more formally gathered in reflection upon Christ.

4.  Prayer – This is, of course, why we are studying Acts, and once again we note immediately their absolute dependence upon God in prayer. The coming of the Spirit did not change this. It did not move them into any new place of now not needing to be constant in prayer and communication with God.

5.  Signs and Wonders – Though some in evangelical circles would disagree with me at this point and contend for the validity of such in our day, I do not think it is normative (though God can and does do miraculous things on occasion). I believe these were unique to the time before the completion of the Scriptures – which now give us authority validating the message and messenger in a way previously done by signs and wonders (See Hebrews 2:1-4).

6.  Generous Mutual Support of Needs – The application of this Scripture is that we should be quick to support one another in times of need, not that we should live in a communal fashion. We should see that indeed all we have has come from God, along with a concomitant responsibility to use it as a blessing for others.

7.  Togetherness – Another way of speaking of the fellowship of the church, these early believers shared so much more than simply their religious lives. Some of this was necessitated by the unique circumstances of many of them being from beyond Jerusalem, but we should not lose the proper emphasis upon the community experience being enjoyed.

8.  A Visible Public Presence – They did not pull away from the Temple nor from the view of those who had so recently put Christ on a Roman cross! They did not shy away from the perverse surrounding world, but rather engaged it with the truth of the Gospel.

9.  Worship – They were regularly in awe of all that was happening about them and expressed that in their reverent worship from sincere hearts. All of this was very attractive to the world around, not repulsive.

10.  Evangelistic Growth – We see the work of God in that HE is the one adding to their numbers. Yes, I’m sure they were working hard at it; but as always, it is God who gives the increase.

It would be a good exercise for any of us to go down the list and check it twice to see if we are naughty or nice in applying it in our lives – as individuals and as a church family together.

The Fellowship of the Believers – Acts 2:42-47

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

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God’s Straight Plan for a Crooked Generation – Acts 2:14-41

If any of you think my sermons are sometimes very theological and difficult to follow, consider this first sermon of Peter! Of course, if he had homiletics in a modern seminary classroom and was told to keep it simple and work hard on application rather than all that nasty theological detail, it could have been better. I jest, of course!

First, the simple fact that Peter is standing in front of thousands of people in a public place is testimony of a great change of life brought about by the work of the Spirit. Only in this way could a simple fisherman command the attention of multitudes in the very center of the Jewish faith – in Jerusalem, likely in the Temple itself.

Peter first makes it clear that those receiving the indwelling of the Holy Spirit were not drunk – since the first meal of the day in that culture happened at 10:00 in the morning, an hour after these events were occurring … so that suggestion was ludicrous.

What was happening was the fulfillment of the words the prophet Joel had spoken hundreds of years earlier. In the last days (begun on this day and in which we continue to live 2,000 years later) there would be a pouring rain of the Spirit (using an agricultural metaphor) and not simply an occasional shower of the Spirit empowering only certain people in limited instances (as was the pattern in the Old Testament). Now, as the Church is born and this new age of grace abounding is initiated, all who come to God and are united with him are granted the presence of God within them in the form of the Holy Spirit.

Though Peter will twice tell these Jews that they participated in the killing of the Messiah, he also makes it clear that all of this transpired in the deliberate plan and foreknowledge of God. That is so significant to understand. In no way was God surprised or forced into a “Plan B” because the Jews rejected their King and the Kingdom. No, God rather had it all orchestrated so that the salvation of all mankind might be accomplished, leading to the universal proclamation of this saving truth.

David had prophesied this, as Peter again quotes the Old Testament from Psalm 16. There, David – a man with a promise from God that his family would forever reign – speaks in the first person of a protection from death and decay. And Peter says that David could not be talking of himself, because David had died and everyone knew of his tomb. He must be talking prophetically of someone from his family lineage – of Jesus, who was witnessed to have been crucified, risen again, and ascended to heaven.

Upon hearing this, the multitudes in a panic understand that they have missed their Messiah … what are they now to do? And the message is the timeless answer of repentance before God for forgiveness of sins. This message was for them, for their children’s generation, and in fact for ALL people near and far. About 3,000 responded that day!

The timeless nature of the message is seen in the appeal that they should repent and thereby save themselves from their corrupt (literally “crooked”) generation. So, given events in our country in recent days where everything righteous and evil seems upside-down and backwards, do we not live in a crooked time? The remedy is the same – to trust in God’s provision of life through the work of Jesus Christ … and to be his ambassadors to make that message known to a lost and messed-up world.

Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.25 David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, 27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

The Day of Pentecost – God’s Creative Marketing Plan (Acts 2)

(Today’s Reading – Acts 2:1-13)

In biblical times, if you were a really good and faithful follower of the Hebrew faith and Scripture (e.g. Deuteronomy 16), there were three pilgrimage festivals where you would make the effort to be in Jerusalem. The city would swell with multitudes of people from around the ancient world.

Jesus Christ was the Passover Lamb – who gave his life at the time of that first great Feast of Unleavened Bread when the city was filled with visitors. You may remember that the Romans hastened the death of the two thieves crucified with Christ because of the Sabbath associated with this event (John 19:31-33).

Pentecost – meaning 50 days later – marked another festival also called “The Feast of Weeks” or “Harvest” or “First-Fruits.”  (The Feast of Tabernacles – several months later – was the third pilgrimage festival.)  Pentecost came at the time of the first-fruits of the wheat harvest. This was a time of gathering to worship God and come before Him in gratitude for his provision.

The Day of Pentecost is the birthday of the institution (or program) of the Church – the bride of Christ. The new coming of the Spirit to indwell the Apostolic company marks the first-fruits of those who will respond to the Gospel message. This is a harvest that would bear fruit all around the world – continuing to our own day. So it is appropriate that the fruit of Christ’s work of salvation would come on Pentecost – as we remember Jesus saying (John 4:35), “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” And the Apostle Paul calls Jesus the first-fruits of the resurrection to life: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

The results of the filling of the Spirit are truly dramatic. As on the occasion of the baptism of Jesus, there are sights and sounds that accompany this initiation of these first believers into the universal Church. It occurs apparently at the house where they were staying, though some believe this refers to the Temple; but in any event, it is dramatic and noticed by the crowds of people. The entire issue of speaking in tongues and how that does or does not apply to our age is a long discussion for another time and venue, but it is clear on this occasion that the tongues are known languages recognized by a large variety of people from around the ancient world. The sights and sounds drew attention to the speakers – who in turn were communicating the message of truth that God wanted the world to hear.

It is humorous to note from this passage that a large part of the amazement of the crowds of people is that they were hearing their own languages spoken by uneducated Galileans! Remember how Peter was identified as a Galilean during his denials of Christ, simply by the accent of his speech? Galileans had a sort of “clipped” way of speaking and pronunciation – maybe sort of like the folks you see on the show “Swamp People!” … or similar to a “Cajun” accent. Whatever, they were not known as scholars! And here they are speaking clearly in other languages apparently in a way they could not even accomplish in their own dialect!

God really has a great marketing plan here!  He has this happening on a time when multitudes are in the city, on a symbolism-enriched occasion, accompanied by miraculous sights and sounds, and with a message being communicated by people who could only do it if God were speaking through them.

Even so, there were scoffers. There will always be scoffers! Our role is to plant the seeds of the harvest and watch God give the increase through his Spirit working through us and through our teaching of the Word.

The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost – Acts 2:1-13

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tonguesas the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Praying While Waiting – It Happens A Lot! (Acts 1:12-26)

Do you feel like you are often waiting for the next big thing in your life to happen? You know there is something coming; you don’t doubt God’s faithfulness or his promises … but they’re not here yet – not obvious what is exactly going to happen or when. The reason you often feel that was is because, well, that is the way it really is a lot of the time in the Christian life.

In our passage today we see the 11 remaining Disciples (capital “D”), and a group of other disciples that together numbered about 120 people, waiting for the next thing to happen. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, these were his basic commands to them:  “Wait here in Jerusalem … in a few days … the gift of the Spirit will come … you will be my witnesses.”

Then he was gone, and they had two angels appear and tell them he would someday come again. Pretty amazing stuff! Even better than the average worship service at Tri-State Fellowship … yep, that good!

So they went into waiting mode, returning to an upper room (perhaps the same one from Holy Week). And what does it say they did? Eat Pringles and dip? Call in pizza? Play board games? No, seriously – They all joined together constantly in prayer. In the confusion of it all, their first IMPULSE was to pray. They were looking to God for direction. Surely they were confessing the confusion of it all, their apprehensions … and certainly as well their worship in amazement for all they had experienced.

In the context of all of this, Peter is led to take a primary role to speak out … yes, Peter – the one who had most failed. He is clearly led by the Spirit in this prayer-enriched environment to understand that two passages from the Old Testament (Psalms 69:25 & 109:8) were referencing the failure of Judas and speaking to the need of a replacement being established for him. Guided by that same Spirit, certain criteria are established – yielding but two possible names. Knowing they should move forward, they chose an unusual method by our senses – the casting of lots – to place it fully in God’s hands as to whom should be the one to take this place. Matthias becomes the choice and he joins the company of the apostles.

The point for today is not to evaluate the odd method used here. It is a long explanation about the casting of lots in that culture and in regard to OT Scriptures … but the point to take away today is that God answered their prayers for guidance with direction and solutions. It will not likely be through the casting of lots or dice or some “eenie meenie miney mo” that we settle upon his guidance. But this same God will honor our requests and petitions by providing over time an ample amount of conviction about his Word, a culmination of circumstances and opportunities, and a fueling of passions and desires that come together in a perfect way at a perfect point in time.

We can always see these things far better when we look back upon them than we can in the midst of the situation – where it may seem that we are waiting and waiting. But while we wait, our IMPULSE should be to pray. God will answer … eventually.

Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas – Acts 1:12-26

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)16 and said, “Brothers and sisters,the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

18 (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20 “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms:  “‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’and, “‘May another take his place of leadership.’

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

The Power to be HIS Witnesses (Acts 1)

< If you are just beginning to read this series with this post today, you might want to look at the online web page www.ImpulseTSF.org for two background writings that will help you understand this series and the book of Acts. >

Incredible Change

They had dropped everything to follow this guy Jesus around Palestine. They saw incredible things – healings and all sorts of miracles, and crowds of people. What a pinnacle moment it must have been to see their teacher riding into Jerusalem and hailed with the shouts of “Hosanna!”

But in less than a week’s time, that had all come crashing down. They saw him die on a Roman cross. Peter appears to be the biggest loser of the crew – cursing in denial of knowing the one whom he had previously called “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  But back off on being too hard on him, as none of the rest were even close enough to possibly commit such a failure.

But sorrow had turned to unbelievable joy. Jesus had risen. He appeared to them intermittently over a period of 40 days – not as some sort of ghost or spirit, but in his resurrected flesh, even eating with them. Jesus taught them much about the entire idea of the kingdom of God. So many of the confusing events and teachings over the past three years of the earthly ministry of Christ were now being clarified in new ways.

But what was next? Where were they to go? Would Jesus continue with them? Even during the time before these amazing events he had said to them that he was going away … that he would send the Spirit, not just to be with them as he was, but to actually reside IN them. And now, one day while eating together, Jesus said they should stay in Jerusalem until the gift of the promised Holy Spirit would come upon them.

But what about the Kingdom promised to the nation of Israel? Would it be restored at that time? Jesus did not rebuke them for asking a dumb question! It was simply not for them to know or be concerned about the time of such, though it would yet happen. Rather, Jesus gave them the command to be his witnesses, bearing testimony of all they had seen and been taught, beginning there in Jerusalem and then moving out to the whole world.

So, if you were Jesus, would you trust this mission to a bunch of guys who had so recently abandoned you at the most needful hour? I know; it is hard to think like Jesus! But here is the difference: at the end of their period of waiting, they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit – giving them a power that was entirely different than their previous condition. And oh, what a difference it would make! In less than two months, they would go from cowering cowards, to bold witnesses in the visual presence of the most powerful people in society. They would change the world!

Jesus ascended into heaven, from which the announced promise was that he would return in like fashion … and we today yet wait for that return, and we therefore have the same mission as given to those disciples in verse eight. That verse serves as the key sentence that essentially outlines what the book Acts is all about – the witness of the apostles and early believers as through them, empowered by the Spirit, the message of the Gospel would spread from Jerusalem, to the surrounding area of Judea, to the next areas beyond (like Samaria), and ultimately to the ends of the earth.

We call this The Great Commission … and it remains our commission as a church. We want to likewise be faithful locally, to our region and state, throughout our country, and unto the ends of the earth. As a church, we support varied ministries that represent all of these places. At TSF last week we sought to be a blessing to our area by hosting the FCA sports camp, and on Sunday we heard the report of our recent eight-member missions team to Kazakhstan – truly the uttermost part of the earth!

The power is in the work of the Spirit through us; it is not in our flesh or strength. We are dependent upon God, and we express that dependence through prayer as we look to Him to use us by that power of His Spirit living in and through us.

Acts 1:1-11 … Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized withwater, but in a few days you will be baptized withthe Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

< If any of these posts are difficult to read on your device due to the format being scattered or too small, you can always click to go the web site and see the material there in its original form. >

Luke and Theophilus – Who Are these Guys? (Acts 1:1-3, Luke 1:1-4)

If I handed you a letter written from one person to another, and you began reading it somewhere in the middle, it would not likely make a lot of sense, would it? You would not know who was writing, to whom it was written, or what was the purpose for the letter.

Yet as silly as that sounds, this is exactly how many people begin studying the Bible – just jumping into the middle of some section of Scripture. And then, it is said to be difficult to understand!  No wonder!  We do not always know the “who, what, when, where, and why” for every book of the Bible, but we do know it for many, and that background helps us immensely with understanding the Scriptures.

It is fairly clear that the book of Acts was written by Luke and to a guy named Theophilus. We know that Luke also wrote his Gospel for a fellow addressed as “most excellent Theophilus.”  And though the writer of Acts never identifies himself, he likewise addresses Theophilus again and references his former written book. (Look below to see these passages.)

As well, later in the Acts of the Apostles, the writer puts himself into the narrative of traveling with Paul for a time by talking about the places “we” went in “our” group. From other New Testament writings we are able to know who was with Paul at that time, and the list includes Luke. All the others are mentioned by name at some point in Acts, and so the process of elimination makes it pretty clear that Luke is the writer. We know too from Colossians 4:14 that Luke was a physician, as well as being a gentile believer in Christ.

The identity of Theophilus is more obscure. Many believe he was some sort of gentile Roman official who was interested in an accounting of who was this fellow named Jesus Christ, along with curiosity about what was this message of the Gospel. If so, that would make him likely a seeker of truth, perhaps someone very unique among his circle of acquaintances – which were more likely to ridicule this faith with its Eastern origins.

So the books of Luke and Acts go together. Just as it was unimaginable to write of the work of Jesus Christ without also recording the results worldwide of his teaching, it was likewise incomplete for Luke to write a history of those results without first reviewing the earthly ministry of Christ.

The title of the book “The Acts of the Apostles” was of course not selected by Luke, but was rather how it was commonly referenced in the first century or so after it was written. Peter is the primary character for the first part of the writing, while Paul takes center stage in the latter half. Some have said it should more appropriately be called “The Acts of the Spirit,” since it records the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and then the subsequent work of the Spirit in the spread of the Gospel.

Whatever it is called, it does present the growth of the message of the Gospel and the expansion of this truth through the establishment of the church in the Roman world. We would really be lost to understand so much about the letters to the churches that comprise the Epistles without having this historical background. And the book gives us a practical model for living in the midst of a secular world.

And beyond this historic progress report of the spread of Christianity, another theme is the prominence of prayer as supportive for successful living and ministry. And that is especially why we are studying the book this summer.

Luke 1:1-4

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilledamong us,just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Acts 1:1-3

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Join Our Summer Adventure

It was 25 years ago. I was beginning my doctoral studies program at Dallas Theological Seminary and had just gotten the syllabus for my first class entitled “Pastoral Ministry and the Book of Acts.”  I had been out of school for six years and was a bit worried about embarking upon this highest level of academics, so I was pretty anxious as I opened the information packet to learn the course requirements.

The first major paper was to write an analysis of the role of prayer in the 1st century church as revealed in the Acts of the Apostles. I remember thinking, “Really? Prayer in the book of Acts? This professor thinks I’m going to write 15-20 pages, just about prayer?”  It simply did not seem like a very great assignment to me. I was disappointed.

It is not like I did not recall that there were people praying in the book of Acts. But as I began to list all the incidents of prayer in the book, I began to see why the assignment was given. Over my years of reading Acts, I had failed to appreciate how significantly these early Christians didn’t do practically anything without praying about it.

To describe it with a single sentence: Prayer was their regular immediate impulse, not their last resort. The study made an impression upon me I would never forget.

Is prayer your first impulse when confronted by the challenges of life? For me, I think it truly was when I was told in 1996 that my oldest son had cancer. More recently, it was my first impulse on that day when another son cut ¾ through his arm with a chainsaw. But most days and on most occasions, my first inclination as an American male is to try to do something to fix it!

What I need to fix rather is the wrong notion that prayer is not doing something. That is what this series and these devotional readings are about – learning from people who understood rightly how dependent they were upon God … as we are also … it just does not always seem that way.

Prayer is the #1 thing that everyone agrees upon is the best activity that can actually succeed in changing the circumstances of life – personally, or corporately as a church family. But it is also the #1 thing that most gets cut, dropped, avoided, forgotten, and otherwise marginalized from the busyness of life. How about we change that?

Another major benefit from reading through the Acts of the Apostles is the timely way it speaks culturally to us as Christians today. These 1st Century followers of Christ lived in a very secular society where faith was ridiculed, if not also so disdained as to engender hostility and persecution. There is much to make us believe we are increasingly living in a culture that is attitudinally more like the 1st Century than at any other time over the past two millennia.

How do we live as God’s people who are a minority in the broader culture? Luke – the same fellow who wrote the Gospel account of that name – helps us see through his eyes and pen how the founding fathers of our faith negotiated these complexities. There are many applications to inform our lives in this modern era.

So, welcome aboard … this is going to be a great summer.

(Tomorrow will feature some background information about Luke and the book of The Acts of the Apostles, and then Monday will begin the first devotional accompanying the 50 sections of readings over a 10-week period.)