I’ve enjoyed preaching through Acts 1-4 the past couple of months. But I’ve been very challenged by God’s Word and His obvious direction for the church. We’ve gotten really good at “comfortable.” We have a pretty good concept of the way we believe things should run. Committee structure, worship service order, building space usage, and so forth. It’s not just that we can make our churches run like a finely-tuned machine… it’s that we want and expect them to. And that is a direct reflection of our personal lives. We are so comfortable. We know what to expect, and how to deal with it when it comes. Spiritually, we’re set. We pray for rain, but when it falls, we’re never satisfied. We don’t pray for God to put food on our tables, clothes on our backs, or gas in our vehicles, because we do that. We can take care of ourselves for the most part. Our lives are finely-tuned. We are self-sufficient. And we expect our churches to be likewise.
Historically, however, when God’s people got comfortable, bad things started happening. Deuteronomy 6 is God’s warning for us in this area: “When you eat and are satisfied, do not forget the Lord,” (Deut. 6:11-12). We all know how that worked out for them. The generation that immediately followed Joshua’s conquest “did not know the Lord or what He had done for Israel,” says Judges 2:10. They got comfortable in the land – things set up so nicely for them… they forgot that they were really dependent on God for survival. Then disaster came. Jeremiah 2:17 says that they had brought this disaster on themselves by “abandoning the Lord.” We like to make this comparable to our nation… but this truth is for the people of God. Christians. We get ourselves set up so nicely and comfortably, and then start boasting our ecclesiological wisdom as exemplified in the past years of success. Jeremiah also reprimands Judah’s leaders concerning this: “How can you claim: We are wise; the law of the LORD is with us?… They have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom do they really have?” (Jer. 8:8-9). God knows how we are. Set up in our perceived wisdom. When we get comfortable, and when we have things set up to run smoothly, we forget how dependent we really are on God. We honestly believe that we have things organized in such a way that God just wants us to keep it as is, and He’ll be free to work within our framework.
So how is a God of love to break us of this awful misperception? He messes things up. The church in Acts saw this first hand. I don’t think the 120 believers after the ascension in Ch. 1 thought to themselves, “You know, I bet God is going to have us speak in tongues 10 days from now.” I don’t think that the 3,120 had been hoping for years to give up their possessions, money, and time so that they could become the church God called them to be at the end of Acts 2. I don’t think Peter and John in Acts 3 woke up that morning and said, “Let’s go get arrested for preaching Jesus today.” They knew that what God was doing in their midst was bigger than them. Sadly, the religious elite didn’t share that sentiment. Acts 4:1-3 tells us that the religious elite couldn’t handle God working apart from them. So rather than recognize God’s working outside their nicely constructed religious framework, they decided to try and squash His movement instead. “If God’s going to use someone in this temple complex, He’s going to use me! … And He will do it inside my comfortability while abiding by the structure that has ‘worked’ for us for the past X many years!”
It is telling that historically, the church has always flourished best under significant oppression. The first church under the oppression of the Roman Empire. The free-churches under the oppression of the established Roman Catholic and Reformed churches. The First Great Awakening under the oppression of the Anglican Church. The Second Great Awakening under the oppression of growing secular idealism.
Every generation gives birth to a new set of complications and challenges. Culture changes. Extremity and kinds of sin change. Socioeconomic conditions change. Psychological, relational, and generational tendencies change. Worldly taboos and fads change.
The message of the gospel stays the same. God stays the same. The general principle that Christians are to love people and meet them at their place of need stays the same. But if the church is going to keep up with the culture it is called to reach (AKA: This One) the way we package those non-negotiables must change. The culture doesn’t need our wrapping paper. It needs what’s inside the box. And if the truth is wrapped in an unappealing, outdated package… if the gospel is strapped with our prideful presuppositions and bigotry… the Truth inside will be overshadowed.
What if God really wants to mess things up? What if He wants to do something that’s bigger than us? Are we really ready for Him to show up and show off? Can we check the non-essentials at the door and get uncomfortable for the cause of Christ?
Grace and Peace,