My Anniversary Gift 

On our anniversary last week, Sunny was disappointed because her gift for me hadn’t arrived yet. She had ordered something handmade and it was late ending shipped. 
Well, my gift arrived this morning: a wood burned map of the MLB Ballparks, complete with pins to mark the ones you’ve visited. Awesome gift! I already have a spot in my office picked out to display this. Isn’t my wife incredible? Best of all, she actually enjoys visiting these ballparks with me. What a great gift!

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The Mask You Live In

The_Mask_You_Live_In_ImageThe other day I saw a trailer for a documentary entitled “The Mask You Live In.” The filmmakers examine the narrow way we define masculinity in this country and the impact this has on our sons. I’ve not seen the entire documentary, but I intend to do so.

In one scene, a counselor is working with a group of high school boys. The counselor gives each young man a sheet of paper. On the front side, he asks them to write words to describe their image, the image they project to the world. And so the boys take a few minutes to write. Then the counselor has the boys flip over to the back side and to write words to describe how they feel about themselves, the person beneath the mask. He has the boys wad up the sheets of paper and throw them all in a pile on the floor. The counselor picks up the wadded up papers and reads each one aloud.

It probably comes as no surprise that the boys used similar language on the front side of their papers. Filled with the braggadocio and machismo common to teen boys, the front side of the papers were filled with words like “tough” and “fearless” and “fighter.” But the revelation came when the counselor read the information revealed on the back of the page. Under cover of anonymity, the boys used strikingly similar language to describe their “real” selves, the person beneath the mask of masculinity. “Lonely.” “Sad.” “I have no friends.” The boys were stunned to discover that they all felt the same way.

Deep down, everyone is looking to be accepted, received, and welcomed.

Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. — Romans 15:7

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IMG_0598Seventeen years.

In some ways, it doesn’t seem right. Wait, we’ve been married seventeen years? Are we old enough to have been married that long?

Then again, I honestly can’t remember what my life was like prior to marrying Sunny. When I sit with couples for premarital counseling, I tell them to think of their marriage as an altar. Marriage is about sacrifice, but transformation occurs when we become living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2). In marriage, “I” becomes “we.” When you immerse yourself in the marriage covenant so fully, holy transformation is inevitable.

Seventeen years ago, I married the best person I know.

And outside of coming to know Jesus as Lord, it continues to be the most transformative moment of my life.

If you’d never met my wife, I’d have you read a post I wrote for her birthday in 2015 entitled “Her Goodness.” The title says it all. I’m convinced that Sunny’s defining quality is her goodness. Here’s what I said about Sunny in that post:

From day one, I’ve never known anyone more interested in doing the right thing…not the convenient thing…not the popular thing…not the politically expedient thing…but the right thing, in any and every circumstance. She was that way when I met her at age 17. And she’s the same person today.

For seventeen years, I’ve been profoundly shaped by Sunny’s enduring goodness. There’s a certain gravitational pull to her purity of heart; I know she’s made me a better person because of her example and influence. It’s such a blessing to be married to your best friend. She’s been so supportive of me: through my years in youth ministry, through graduate school, through doctoral work, and now in my current role as preaching minister, I’ve always been able to rely on Sunny’s constant encouragement and quiet strength. She makes me laugh more than anyone and I’m so thankful that seventeen years ago, she met me at the altar and said “I do.”

Sunny, thank you for being my wife, my companion, and my friend. Moreover, thank you for meeting me at the altar, for modeling “living sacrifice” every day in our marriage and in our home, and for transforming me through your goodness and your grace. I love you.

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Summer Reading / Playlist

Things have been pretty quiet over here at the blog lately. Between end-of-summer festivities and the start of a new school year, it’s just been awfully busy around here lately. But I decided to take a little time and write about some of what I’ve been reading and listening to this summer.

la-et-jc-city-of-mirrors-20160613-snapCity of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

If you’re into post-apocalyptic fiction, then you’re probably already aware of Cronin’s masterful Passage series. I picked up a copy of The Passage a few years ago during a weeklong intensive course in Abilene and I devoured it in a week (all 700+ pages of it). City of Mirrors is the long-awaited conclusion to Cronin’s centuries-spanning trilogy in the wake of a viral epidemic (and I mean “viral” quite literally). I won’t give away any of the plot details but this final installment was satisfying on so many levels. Cronin swings for the fences here, aiming at a narrative that works at a meta-level while still delivering epic action and a gratifying end for our favorite characters. In my opinion, he nailed the ending. A great summer read that poses thoughtful questions about life, myth, civilization, and our deep-seeded narratival nature.

kingkiller-coversThe Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

A couple of good friends recommended this series to me after I wrapped up City of Mirrors. Rothfuss’s tale of Kvothe, a valiant adventurer narrating his story to a young scribe, has more of an “old world” feel to it, much like Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. But it’s everything you want in a good story. I just completed the second entry in the trilogy and I can’t wait for the final chapter to be released. If you’re a fan of Martin’s work, you should slip seamlessly into Rothfuss’s fully alive universe.

Sabbath-1Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann

So far, my favorite non-fiction read of the summer. Brueggemann has loomed large in academic theological circles for decade. But this highly accessible little volume deftly weaves biblical insight with pastoral sensibility to produce a prophetic word for an anxious, over-worked culture. Brueggemann gives the Sabbath back to us, not as a commandment so much as an invitation to life:

“The way of mammon (capital, wealth) is the way of commodity that is the way of endless desire, endless productivity, and endless restlessness without any Sabbath. Jesus taught his disciples that they could not have it both ways.”

Elsewhere, Brueggemann notes, “Moses knows that prosperity breeds amnesia.” We see, then, the practice of Sabbath rest as an act of resistance and remembering, keeping the deity of commerce and produce at bay as we embrace the Lord of rest. The book itself is not cumbersome either, an embodiment of the rest toward which Brueggemann directs us. Read these life-giving words.

18d928b0-76c4-11e4-95b5-ff2979de448a_upupandawayUp, Up, and Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos by Jonah Keri

You’ll have to forgive the clunky title. Keri, of Grantland and Baseball Prospectus fame, compiles an oral history of baseball’s red-headed stepchild, the doomed-from-the-start Montreal Expos. This thorough expose (sorry) is immersive and completely fascinating. This was my baseball read this summer and I wasn’t disappointed. Hardcore baseball fans need to read this one.

amoonshapedpool.0.0A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead

I’ve always followed Radiohead from somewhat of a distance. I liked their 90s stuff, but somewhere around Kid A, they kind of lost me. I just struggled to “get” their turn-of-the-millennium stuff. I loved In Rainbows; not so much King of Limbs. But this is the first Radiohead release I consumed in “real time” and I’m pretty sure it’s my Album of the Year. First, the music. This is some of the most beautiful music they’ve produced to date, accented by Jonny Greenwood’s haunting string arrangements. But the real draw here is the message. Filled with evocative allusions to paranoia and panic (what else would you expect from Radiohead), “Burn the Witch” is the most prescient song of 2016. No other set of songs so perfectly encapsulates our collective angst and fears more than this one.

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Already and Not Yet: Becoming a Husband

I originally wrote this for a friend’s blog last month. Decided to post it here as well.

The Kingdom of heaven is like becoming a husband.

Allow me to explain.

Jason and Sunny weddingOn August 14, 1999, I stood before everyone I know and love, in a rented tuxedo, and made a covenant vow to love Sunny until parted by death. We said some magic words, swapped some rings, kissed….the whole thing was over in about 20 minutes. And just like that, I was a husband.

But in the weeks and months to come, I realized how much I had to learn about my new title. Although I was already a husband, it quickly became evident that I was not yet the husband Sunny deserved. Or, to put it another way: I had no clue what I was doing. So even though I already had the title of “husband”, I had much to learn about the way of husbandry.

Thankfully, my wife possesses the spiritual gift of excruciating patience. She was patient with me as I lived into that which I was not yet embodying.

And slowly, I became what I already was.

I became a better husband the first time I made her mascara run by making an insensitive comment – something I’ve done far too often in 16 years of marriage. But that insensitive comment was redeemed by the power of God, becoming a catalyst to produce godly transformation in me. I learned to be more discerning in the things I said. And that’s just one example. I became a better husband the time I accidentally broke an entire boxful of her porcelain figurines, knick-knacks, and family heirlooms. (I can tell you that story some other time.) I became a better husband through years of exposure to Sunny’s innate goodness. I’ve never known anyone who wants to do the right thing more completely and more often than my wife. And no matter how long we’re married, I suspect I’ll always be in the process of becoming a better version of myself as I continue to learn to love Sunny well.

Am I a finished product? Absolutely not. Sunny would be the first to tell you that I still have a long way to go.

But I’m grateful that marriage has been the crucible in my life to bring me into proximity to this already / not yet reality. For I believe this dynamic to be at the very heart of what Jesus has to say about the Kingdom of God.

Scholars believe the Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel to be widely circulated among the earliest believers. In Mark’s expression of the Good News, the first words Jesus speaks are concerned with the nearness of the Kingdom.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of god. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14)

The first words Jesus speaks in the first Gospel to be recorded are about the nearness of the Kingdom.

Near the end of his ministry, the Pharisees ask him when the Kingdom would come. He replied:

The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21)

Jesus spoke of His Kingdom as a present reality in the first century. Disciples of Christ participate in this Kingdom, His present reign. Through faith, Christ’s disciples are invited to participate in a Kingdom where peace reigns – where swords are beaten into plowshares (Isa. 2). In Christ’s Kingdom, the “natural” order of enmity is redeemed and reconciled (Isa. 11), as wolf and lamb live together in perfect shalom. This Kingdom life is the product of faith; in a very real way, followers of Christ participate in that Kingdom now, a Kingdom where the first are last, the least are greatest, service is selfless and love endures. We experience the Kingdom already in so many blessed ways.

And yet, this Kingdom still awaits full consummation. Creation waits in eager expectation for a final revealing (Rom. 8:19), God’s final redemptive act to bring history to a just and glorious end. The last enemy to be defeated is death (1 Cor. 15:26) and we hasten the day when King Jesus eradicates death once and for all. John was given a glimpse of this glorious future reality in the final vision recorded in Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making all things new!” (Rev. 21:1-5)

In the Bible’s closing scene, the Apostle John peeks over the fence of mortality to see a new reality, the new Jerusalem, a place of complete communion between God and man, a city unmarred by the ravaging effects of sin, decay, and death. The scope of God’s renewing administration is universal. All things are made new by the power of His decree.

But that day is not this day.

In the last few weeks, we have been met with grim reminders that John’s ancient vision has not fully broken into this plane of existence.

On Stanford’s campus, there are plenty of tears still to be wiped.

In vigils throughout Orlando, the old order of death, mourning, crying, and pain continues to overwhelm.

In places like Louisiana and Minnesota…in places like Dallas and Kansas City…in Istanbul…in Nice, France…

We live with constant reminders of the not yet dimension of the Kingdom. Creation groans a bit longer. Evil is still pervasive. The present order of the sword has yet to be redeemed. Wolf and lamb are still caught in an endless cycle of violence. Shalom is not yet ours.

Scholars use terms like “prolepsis” to describe our present condition. That is to say, we live “between the times.” We live between what Christ has already done and what He’s yet to do. Our charge is to be the in-breaking of the Kingdom in the here and now while waiting for the fullness of the Kingdom yet to come.

The Kingdom of God, much like life itself, is both already and not yet. This is to acknowledge who we find ourselves to be in this moment while simultaneously recognizing that we’ve not fully arrived. It expresses something about how we are to value life lived today with a nod toward the hopeful anticipation of something more on the horizon. It’s acknowledging that I’m a member of a Kingdom that is both a present reality and a future development. It calls me to live faithfully as a member of this in-breaking Kingdom now with an understanding that the beauty of this life is fully realized in a Kingdom yet to come. It is this beautiful tension that most fully expresses the most fundamental truths of the abundant life that is ours in Christ. On my good days and, perhaps most especially on my bad days, I desperately need to be reminded that I am both already and not yet. This is a truth I hold most dear.

Which is how the Kingdom of God is like becoming a husband.

Posted in Blessings, Faith, Family, Marriage, Race, Scripture, Social Issues, Sunny, Terrorism, Theology | Leave a comment

The Power of Missional Conversation



People who have been shaped by the Good News of Jesus have a responsibility to embody the Good News of Jesus. And one of simplest and yet most powerful ways we can embody the Good News is through our conversations.

Think about the kinds of conversations we have over the course of any week. Think about the opportunities present in each of those conversations. What would it look like if those conversations became missional conversations?

In Acts 17:16-34, we find Paul waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens. Athens was the glorious capital city of Greek culture, the place where Plato and Aristotle taught. The city drew its name from Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and knowledge. Athens symbolized the highest of art, culture, and philosophy in the ancient world.

Paul sees that Athens is filled with idols and the text says he was “greatly distressed.” Literally, Paul is “outraged.” And this really challenges me. While I believe our idols are much more sophisticated than the idols of the ancient world, our city is filled with idols nonetheless. But when was the last time I was “outraged” over this? I’m not sure missional conversations can truly begin until we share Paul’s distress over our cultural idolatry.

Paul begins to talk to the people; some translations say that Paul “disputed” with people. We have to remember that debate was part of the discourse of the day. The point isn’t that Paul had an argumentative personality; the point is that he engages people in the mode of communication that is familiar to them and their culture. He engages them in meaningful and relevant conversation.

Paul goes to two places:

  1. The synagogue – in the local synagogue, Paul can interact with the Jewish people as well as God-fearing Greeks, those who have the greatest context to understand Jesus as the promised Messiah.
  2. The marketplace – a general gathering place for business and conversation. Paul is present here as well, which affords him the opportunity to dialogue with all types, including the philosophers.

Paul doesn’t seem to think that conversations about faith should only occur in places of worship. He’s taking these conversations into the public arena. And the Bible says he does this every day while he’s in Athens.

The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers dispute Paul’s teaching, not in a hostile manner, but honestly. Philosophy was extremely important in the ancient world. Ancient philosophy was not merely a discussion about abstract doctrine that you might hear at an academic seminar. Rather, these philosophical viewpoints referred to a particular way of life. Different philosophies (or worldviews) were hotly contested in the ancient world, advocated vigorously by street preachers, and discussed in everyday conversation.

Epicurus taught in Athens in the 4th century BC. His followers believed in the gods, but taught that human life was free from interference from them. Life was ruled by chance, purely an accident of nature. Therefore they did not believe in a future beyond death. Since that was the case, the Epicureans considered personal happiness the supreme value. Avoid suffering at all costs. There is no such thing as a personal god.

Stoics, on the other hand, were pantheists; that is, they believed that God was in all things. Therefore, they could say, “in him we live and move and have our being.” Stoics sought to live in harmony with the cosmos, because divinity is in everything. They believed the moral life was the reasoned existence, since everything was governed by logic. Stoics were highly rational and analytical.

These philosophers refer to Paul as a “babbler” – literally “seed picker.” Picture a bird hopping around the marketplace pecking at various seeds, without a coherent approach. That’s what the Stoics and Epicureans think of Paul. They say to each other, “What is he trying to say?” They view Paul as a simpleton, a peddler of second-rate philosophy and religion.

Others make a more harmful accusation: “He seems to be a preacher of foreign gods.” This is a serious charge. The law forbade Athenians from introducing new religions. Centuries earlier, Socrates had been executed on the same charge. But they accuse Paul of this because he’s preaching something they’ve never heard: Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection (v18). Paul is evangelizing – he’s literally “good news-ing” the crowd. Paul’s philosophy / worldview was one of Good News focused on Jesus.

These philosophers take Paul to the Aeropagus, an elevated, open-air site where the city council gathered. Some see this as Paul on trial, but the tone seems more civil. The leaders ask, “May we know what this new teaching is that you’re presenting?” In essence, they’re saying, “We’d like to know more.” And Paul stands ready to tell them about Jesus.

Paul says to them in v22-23, Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. Paul has made careful observations about this culture. He uses this altar to an unknown God as his inroads to a missional conversation. Paul is careful to say that he’s not preaching a “new” religion; he’s merely telling them about this God who is “unknown” to them.

Here are a few of the things Paul tells them about this “unknown God”:

  • God is the universal God. Paul uses universal language to affirm that the Creator God has made “everything”; he gives “all men” life and “everything else.” He made “every nation” to inhabit “the whole earth.” And Paul says this same God wants “all people everywhere” to repent.
  • God is a transcendent God. He doesn’t live in temples built by human hands. Nor does he live in temples of the human mind. The Stoics were wrong when they taught that everything was a part of God.
  • God is the God of history. He has allotted the times and places for human history to unfold. The Epicureans are wrong when they say life is an accident of nature.
  • God has made himself known. Paul says God desires that we seek him and reach out for him. Paul could’ve easily pointed to the many shrines around him as proof that the people were looking for meaning and purpose to their lives. Paul says this reflects God’s desire that we should seek him. And the Good News is that God is present. As Paul says, he is not far from each one of us. In Christ, He has made himself known.

In order to make this final point, Paul quotes from Greek philosophy and poetry. He does this with two lines in v28:

For in him we live and move and have our being. We believe this comes from Epimenides, a philosopher from the 6th century BC. Of course, Epimenides would’ve been originally speaking about Zeus, but Paul uses this familiar line and attributes it to the God of Israel.

According to tradition, Athens was once afflicted by a terrible plague and the people didn’t know what else to do, so they sent a ship to Crete to ask for the help of wise Epimenides. Epimenides agreed to help the Athenians and when he arrives, he (like Paul) finds the city filled with shrines to a number of different gods. Epimenides concludes that there must be a god unknown to Athens and this god must be appeased. So he takes a flock of sheep to the Areopagus and wherever one of these lambs lies down, he has an altar built right there and they sacrifice the lamb to the unknown god. Within a week, those with the plague have recovered and Epimenides is hailed as a hero. Thus, from that day onward, visitors to Athens would find altars to unknown gods around the city.

And Paul alludes to this philosopher in his speech, a philosopher who believed that the blood of a lamb could bring healing to the people. I wonder why Paul would quote someone like that?

We are his offspring. This is a quote from Aratus, one of the greatest Greek poets who lived in the 3rd century BC. Aratus was known for blending poetry and science in a refined manner of writing. Paul cites this poet who would have been quite revered in a city like Athens. Paul quotes Aratus to supplement his argument. If we are indeed God’s offspring, He cannot be like these images of gold, silver, and stone. He’s a living being, not something we can create.

At the conclusion of Paul’s speech, Luke tells us that some in the crowd scoff while others are more open. Some even choose to become disciples, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a member of the assembly.

So here are a few things we can learn from Paul’s experience in Athens:

  1. Missional conversations begin on common ground.

This is where Paul begins in his discussion at the Areopagus. He says, I can see that you’re very religious and I’ve seen your objects of worship. Paul has carefully observed the surrounding culture and he’s found common ground by acknowledging that the Athenians are quite religious. Of course, Paul wants to correct those faulty religious views, but he begins by establishing some common ground.

And this is instructive for us as we seek to have the same kinds of missional conversations with people today. So, for instance, say you find yourself talking with someone about politics. And they’re talking about a particular candidate and expressing concerns over what will happen if / when that candidate is elected. How does that conversation become missional in nature? Well, you could respond by saying, “I can tell that you’re very concerned about the future of this country and I share those concerns. But one of the things that helps me deal with those concerns is to remind myself that God is in control and thankfully my ultimate future is defined by him, not by any politician.” This is just one approach, but a missional conversation begins by seeking to establish common ground.

  1. Missional conversations bridge the gap between places of worship and the marketplace.

Remember, Paul talks about his faith in both the synagogue and the marketplace. In our culture, the conventional attitude is “Believe what you want to believe, just don’t say anything about it to anyone else.” But Paul doesn’t subscribe to this point of view.

What sorts of things are people talking about in the marketplace these days? What conversations do you have with friends over dinner or at the coffee shop? And here’s the next question: What bearing does your faith have on these conversations?

So, again, we can see this in our political discussions: in this election cycle, we’ve heard a great deal about what it means to be an outsider. A lot of people look at Washington and see a system that’s broken and many believe it will take an outsider to change the status quo. So if you find yourself in that kind of conversation, it’s an opportunity to say, “You know, Jesus was considered an outsider by the power brokers in Jerusalem. In fact, he was such a threat to their power that they decided to have him executed.

Or perhaps the people in your marketplace are talking about the latest blockbuster coming out of Hollywood. Have you ever thought about our cultural infatuation with superhero movies? Why is it that we’re drawn to these stories of good and evil with these heroes who have incredible power to save? Do you think that’s just random or could that be evidence that we’re looking for something deeper, that our souls are uniquely hardwired to crave such stories of salvation and redemption?

  1. Missional conversations focus on the Good News about Jesus.

Paul is very tactful and thoughtful in confronting the views of the Epicureans and the Stoics. Remember, he is outraged over their rampant idolatry, but that doesn’t mean he lashes out in anger at them. In fact, Paul seems perfectly at ease in this conversation.

Paul exercises tact by engaging the Athenians on their own terms: most notably philosophy and poetry. Those were important cultural elements in Athens. And Paul demonstrates thoughtfulness by connecting these disciplines to matters of faith. And the people say to him, “We’d like to know more.” And the same thing can be true in our conversations today.

When we engage in conversations like this, we embody the Good News. The world hears plenty of bad news; you can find bad news at every turn. But there’s an opportunity there for us to be a Good News people, even in our conversations. To take part in missional conversations is to do what Paul did all those years ago in Athens: to speak a word of Good News in the name of Jesus.

Posted in Church, Culture, Faith, Gospel, Kingdom Values, Missiology, Politics, Scripture, Theology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Missional Way of Life

Have you ever noticed that laughter is contagious?

The video is actually a social experiment. With hidden cameras set up at a local bus stop, an actor is sent in among the “regular” folks. As you can see, at a certain point, the actor begins laughing, first to himself and then more heartily. Eventually, even the most hesitant among the group begins to smile and take part in the communal laughter — because laughter is contagious.

According to Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist at University College London, laughter is contagious because our brains perceive laughter as something positive. In her research, Scott and her team played a series of sounds to volunteers and measured the responses in their brains with an fMRI scanner. Some sounds were positive, like laughter or a baby cooing or triumphant shouts, while others were negative, like screaming or retching.

All of these sounds trigger responses in the region of the brain that prepares your face muscles to move in a way that corresponds to the sound. But they found that response was much higher for positive sounds, suggesting they are more contagious than negative sounds – which could explain our involuntary smiles when we see people laughing. That’s why the laugh track was invented.

It seems that something good and positive is more contagious than anything else.

Perhaps this explains the story of the early church. In the book of Acts, the church bursts onto the scene with a flourish, a force for good unlike anything the world has ever seen. And the church experiences incredible growth from the outset. And as we’ll see by looking at Acts 2, this growth is attributed to these earliest Christians being devoted to a good and positive way of life — a missional way of life.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This summary statement comes on the heels of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. After Peter declares the Good News, about 3,000 people received the word and were baptized. This act of repentance signals the beginning of a new way of life. These 3,000 people didn’t “join” the church; they were added by God Himself. In the New Testament, you don’t “join” a church; you become the church.

And Luke describes the way of life of these earliest Christians. He says in v42 that they were devoted to a particular way of life. The word “devoted” means “to be diligently preoccupied, to hold fast.” The believers are sold out to the way of life that Luke describes.

Luke identifies four areas of common devotion among God’s people:

  • The apostle’s teaching – the story of Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment / focal point of the biblical narrative.
  • Fellowshipkoinonia, a shared life together. We share Jesus in common, that means we share life together.
  • Breaking of bread – communion together. This practice is a demonstration of our fellowship with one another.
  • Prayer – the early church was steadfast in her prayer life.

Moving from these practices, Luke spells out some of the church’s core values:

  • Awe (v43) – everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders taking place in their midst. God was regularly at work among His people, prompting the believers to recognize that “our God is an awesome God.”
  • Friendship (v44) – all the people were together and had everything in common. This line is an allusion to a well-known Greek proverb concerning friendship: “friends hold all things in common.” Greek philosophers cited this proverb as a feature of their utopian visions of society. The best societies were envisioned as networks of friendship. With this phrase, Luke vividly describes the church as a place of deep, true friendship.
  • Generosity (v45) – believers sold their possessions and gave to meet the needs of others. Luke says they gave indiscriminately, helping anyone in need. Love for others was manifest through generosity and compassion.
  • Table Hospitality (v46) – they broke bread regularly. The table is one of the central icons in the Christian faith and we see the power of the table here. Sharing a meal together is still one of our most formative practices.
  • Joy (v46) – they lived with glad and sincere hearts. To be glad is to be joyful. The early Christians were a people of celebration. They were Good News people. The irony here is that they took their salvation seriously — which prompted them to be incredibly joyful!
  • Worship (v47) – they continue to praise God, in particular through song. Their love for God was evident by the way they worshipped together.
  • Community (v47) – they enjoyed the favor of the community. “Favor” is literally “grace.” In context, it means good will. The surrounding community understood this way of life as something good and positive.

The favor they enjoyed in the community helps to explain the final line of the text: And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. This new entity that comes to be known as “the church” was immediately perceived as something good and positive. Like laughter spreading through a bus stop, this Gospel-formed way of life was contagious.

And another word we could use to describe this way of life: missional.

The word “missional” is not a description of a specific activity of the church or one of the many programs of the church. Instead, “missional” gets at the very essence and identity of the church. “Missional” is not something we do, it’s who we are. Remember, the earliest Christians didn’t join a church; they became THE church. And by becoming the church, they embraced this way of life that the world perceived to be good. People in the community benefitted from the church’s existence. And that created missional opportunities for God’s people.

To be “missional” is to live “on mission.” And what is our mission? Love is our mission. As I’ve been writing for several months now, love prompted God to send Jesus into the world on a mission of redemption (John 3:16). And Jesus leaves His followers a mission to make disciples through sharing the Good News (Matt. 28; Acts 1:8). But Jesus grounds all of this in love when He teaches His followers that the greatest commands are to love God and love others. The believers we read about in Acts 2 were devoted to loving God and loving others. And by living “on mission” — living in obedience to the greatest commands of Jesus — their lives had a “missional” quality. By loving God and loving others, their numbers grew.

It has been said that the church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members. Like Abraham in Genesis 12, the church understands her blessings as opportunities to bless others. We’ve been blessed in order to be a blessing. This is the missional perspective: our lives announce the Good News by showing the world what it looks like to love God and love others.

The early church didn’t grow because they were recruiting members to the cause. People don’t want to be recruited. People want to be loved. We want to experience love and to see love modeled. And there was something about those earliest believers — something about the way they loved — that was certainly contagious.

We might call it a missional way of life.

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