S.O.P. (Acts 2:42)

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 2:42

After Pentecost; after the Holy Spirit, through Peter, brought about three thousand people to faith the new converts made these four things their standard operating procedure.

One, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. The modern equivalent would be spending time in The Bible regularly. But more, there are those who have been called by God to teach their fellow believers. These, also, have insight by the Holy Spirit and I am well-served to pay attention to them insofar as their teaching agrees with scripture. And this is not limited to teachers currently alive. I have learned much and more from such as C.S. Lewis and A.W. Tozer and G.K. Chesterton and others. I do well to spend time in the Word and in the teaching of those whom God has gifted with that ability.

Two, they devoted themselves to fellowship. Being of a solitary bent, I have often found this particular practice difficult. That said, fellowship need not be in large groups or in massive gatherings. While the second chapter records an in-gathering of three thousand souls, the rest of the book generally deals with much smaller fellowships: groups that could meet in a house. Spending time with my fellow believers is a necessity. The number, however, is not prescribed.

Three, they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. This could mean that they had meals together — an interpretation supported by some parts of the book of Acts — or it could mean that they partook of the Lord’s Supper; Communion regularly. The second would be a fulfillment of Jesus’ command to do that in remembrance of Him. I suspect that both are the case. I suspect that those who had the means hosted those who did not and that Communion was a common occurrence.

Four, they devoted themselves to prayer. Prayer is difficult for many believers, myself included. There are so many teachings on prayer that one can easily get lost in the profusion. Worse, some of them seem to contradict one another. This teaching tells me that I should pray in a certain pattern while this other teaching tells me that the pattern is not important, but the position of my heart is. The conclusion to which I have come is that I will pray as best I can and let God sort me on the matter. Prayer is, after all, about meeting with Him. I am quite certain that He is able to sort me out.

Let me check myself in these areas. These were, after all, S.O.P. (standard operating procedure) for the church in is nascence. And, since God does not change, these things should still be S.O.P. for me today.

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Controlled. Purposeful. Glorifying God. (Acts 2:4, 7-11)

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.  …  7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”

Acts 2:4, 7-11

 The scripture speaks of people speaking in tongues. The trouble we get in to, as believers, is putting too much emphasis on this one gift of the Spirit while neglecting the weightier matters of our faith. More, we often focus in on one manifestation of the gift of tongues to the exclusion of the other.

These verses give an account of the first recorded instance of the Holy Spirit giving the gift of tongues. The first. Since it is the first, it should occur to me that this is also the most important; the one which sets the precedent against which I should measure all other examples of the gift of tongues. There are several things that stand out to me about this occurrence and how the Holy Spirit does things.

First, the gift of tongues was controlled. The apostles spoke as the Spirit was giving them utterance. This was not the chaos so often associated with this gift, rather it was controlled and directed by the Holy Spirit. Of note is that the Spirit giving utterance means, to me, that not every believer will manifest the gift of tongues. The Spirit gives utterance, not the believer. If the Spirit does not give utterance, then the believer has nothing to say.

Second, there were people who understood the languages on hand. It is noteworthy that everyone who was amazed and astonished was also heard the apostles speaking in the language to which [they] were born. There were over a dozen languages and dialects represented at that location and the Holy Spirit was providing simultaneous translation of what was being said. Which leads nicely into the third thing.

Third, the apostles were speaking of the mighty deeds of God. If speaking in tongues does not glorify God, then it is either not a gift of the Spirit of a gift wrongly used. The gift of tongues, as with every gift of the Spirit, is primarily intended to glorify God, then to edify the body and reach the unbelieving. There is no place for a gift of the Spirit to be used to glorify the individual believer.

What is true for the gift of tongues is also true for every other gift of the Spirit. Every gift of the Spirit is to be controlled and directed by Him. Every gift of the Spirit is to fill some need in the body — tongues, in the second chapter of Acts, was a gift needed to reach the multitudes with the good news of Jesus Christ. Every gift of the Spirit is intended to glorify God. Controlled, purposeful, and glorifying to God. If any gift of the Spirit does not meet these criteria, then it is not a gift or is a gift being wrongly used.

You Follow Me (John 21:22)

Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what [is that] to you? You follow Me!”

John 21:22

There is a divine comfort in this exchange.

Peter denied Christ three times. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he (Peter) loved Him (Jesus). Three times Peter said that he loved Jesus. On the heels of this, Peter turns around and sees John. And all I can think is how typical that is of me, too — God does something amazing in my life, restores me to close fellowship with Him and I start craning my neck around to see what everyone else is doing. Peter does not stop with just looking around to see what is going on and where everyone is, but goes so far as to ask Jesus “What about John?”

Jesus’ answer is THE answer. Jesus says, in essence, “What about John? John’s walk with Me is John’s walk with Me. You tend to your walk with me.”

There are plenty of questions that fly around about how I should deal with my fellow believer — Cain put it in the form of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and we have been repeating it in much the same way ever since — but Jesus boils it down to the essential. How am I dealing with Him? My relationship with Him will impact every other relationship in my life. Every. One.

I need not fret that I will treat others horribly if I focus on following Christ. Christ treated the hurting gently and laid the smack down on the proud. He knew what everyone needed and gave them precisely that. If I follow Him, I will also be giving to each what they need, not because I am wise or insightful, but because I am following in the footsteps and actions of the One Who is. Whether or not God uses one of my brothers or sisters in Christ does not change my walk with Him. I should be praying for them; loving them; encouraging them; exhorting them regardless of their walk with Christ. Christ’s instruction is simple: You follow Me.

Let me but follow Him and He will sort everything else.

Belief (John 20:29)

Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed [are] they who did not see, and [yet] believed.”

John 20:29

The Bible tells us that we walk by faith and not by sight. Thomas had not quite got hold of this concept and refused to believe that Jesus had resurrected unless he saw Jesus with his own eyes and felt the scars with his own fingers. He wanted empirical evidence that Jesus was back from the dead.

There are still those today who want empirical evidence. It is noteworthy that Jesus did not condemn Thomas’ desire for proof. He merely points out that those who believe without such evidence are more blessed. It would seem that God is not afraid of seekers looking for evidence. Probably because He knows that those who seek find — He said so Himself.

Believers today fall into the second category, by and large. We have come to believe because we heard and we considered and we concluded that what we had heard was true. There is evidence. But evidence, as trials often show, can be interpreted where empirical inputs cannot. If I see the risen Lord and touch His scars, then I no longer need faith to believe He is alive, I merely need reason. If I have seen and touched no such thing, then faith is a necessity. And that, I think, is where Jesus was going with this comment.

Thomas believes his own senses. This is not laudable or commendable or even all that surprising. Most of us trust our senses unless there is a compelling reason not to. Those who employ faith are trusting God; taking God at His Word. It is a practice that serves well in the walk ahead.

Let me place my trust; my faith squarely in God today. While I may not have empirical data to explain why I trust, I walk by faith and not by sight.

What Is Truth? (John 18:38)

Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”

John 18:38

Pilate asked an excellent question. If only he had stayed put for an answer.

There is Truth — objective, verifiable, absolute — and there is what the world commonly calls truth — subjective, debatable, mutable. One is Truth. The other is opinion putting on airs.

And the answer to Pilate’s question is that Truth stood before him that day. The Truth was on trial. Jesus said that He is the Truth (John 14:6). Jesus said, when praying to His Father not one chapter prior, that God’s Word is Truth (John 17:17) and John told us in the opening of his gospel that Jesus is the Word (John 1:14-18). Suffice it to say that Pilate had the Answer to his question standing in front of him.

I suspect that I am often much like Pilate. I ask God a question and do not wait for an answer, but go on to the next thing. It is as if my procedure calls for me to pray, so I pray without engaging before running off to do what I thought I should do. Meanwhile, God is standing by with the answer to my question. He may, in fact, be the answer to my question.

Two things to take from this morning’s verse. One, I need to ask God questions  to which I expect an answer, not merely as part of some procedure. If I am not engaged, then it is no prayer at all. And if it is no prayer, then I would have saved time by skipping ahead to making my dumb mistake and not putting on the pretense of asking God for insight. Two, I need to wait for the answer. Not only must my question require a response, I must wait for that response. God may, Himself, be the response, but I will not know that unless I wait for His reply. Ask with an expectation of an answer and wait for the answer.

Sanctify (John 17:17)

Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.

John 17:17

This morning’s verse comes from the section of John sometimes called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. It is a chapter dedicated to Jesus praying for the Father to glorify Him; for the disciples to be sanctified and unified and glorified; for those who were there and we who were yet to come to be one as the Father and Son are One. It is a prayer in which every phrase could be studied and scrutinized and pondered.

I take this morning’s verse as both encouragement and challenge.

The verse is an encouragement to continue in the practice of daily Bible reading and morning-by-morning devotion. It is an encouragement that Jesus’ prayer for me is that the Word would sanctify me; set me apart; make me different. It is an encouragement also to look for intimacy with God. The verse is, in many modern translations, rendered with Your instead of Thy. This does us a grave disservice. Modern English language has lost what many other languages still have: a formal and an informal second-person pronoun. French has tu and vous. Spanish has tu and usted. Chinese has ni and nin (I am not even going to try to figure out how to produce the characters or the tonality). Jesus uses the familiar form of your and thy is appropriate. It sounds stilted and overly formal to modern ears, but only because we have lost the delineation between the formal and the familiar. To those who take the time to understand, Jesus’ use of thy implies an informality; a familiarity with the Father that we are also called to as believers and this verse encourages me to press in to the place where that familiarity comes from actually being that familiar with my God.

The verse is a challenge to read my Bible more. I have this devotional time five days a week. But there are two more days in each week in which I do not have this time. I read my Bible every morning and contemplate the verse or verses that stand out to me, but I do not consistently meditate on these things throughout the day. I would be better served if I did. Jesus’ use of the familiar calls me to become more familiar with the Father so that I, too, am comfortable coming informally into His presence.

Let me be encouraged in those things that are well: daily reading and pressing in to know my God better. Let me be challenged to do still more; to go further up and further in.

The Father’s Love (John 16:27)

… for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.

John 16:27

I am not sure why, but this verse very nearly brought me to tears this morning and I felt I had to stop and mull it over.

[T]he Father Himself loves you. I know that the context is one of asking in prayer, but this simple declaration hits hard. To know that the Father Himself loves you is profound. In a time when fathers are often absentee and mothers are asked to pick up that slack, it strikes a cord deep within a man to know that the Father Himself loves you. So much of what the Father does is incomprehensible to me, yet to know that the Father Himself loves you puts all of those actions; all of those choices into a context that I do understand. I, too, am a father and I, too, love my children and that opens a window of understanding that was never available to me before.

Jesus gives a reason why the Father loves those disciples: because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father. I, too, love Christ just as imperfectly as those disciples. I can rest assured that the Father loves me as He loves those disciples. I, too, believe that Jesus came from the Father and this belief leads to the Father’s sacrifice of His Son; the Father’s broken heart not being in vain. Jesus’ sacrifice for me is effectual and this prompts the Father’s love. He loves His Son and He loves those who love His Son. It is a truth I had not really begun to comprehend until I became a father. I love my children and I love those who love my children — if for no other reason than because they love my children, though I often love them independent of that.

The Father loves us. There is a praise song whose lyrics mostly annoy me, but whose chorus I could sing for long stretches at a time. The chorus is “He loves us. Oh, how He loves us. Oh, how He loves us; how He loves us all.” How He loves us. Let me lean back in that love and rest.