I’ve been combing through the book of Acts lately trying to understand what made the early church such a dynamic movement. This isn’t the first time I’ve done it, nor will it be the last. It’s a bit of an obsession with me. You’ll have to deal with it.
A few days ago I stumbled across something that I had missed in other translations. Acts 2 describes the coming of the Holy Spirit in the upper room and the message Peter preached in an attempt to explain it. When Peter finishes declaring the Gospel, many, many people come to Christ and the first church is born. This infant church begins practicing what I’ve taught as the four essentials of church for a long time (devotion to the Gospel, fellowship, eating together, and prayer).
What gripped me, though, was the next verse. It wasn’t the description of what the church did–it was the description of what the church had. Here’s what Luke records:
And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
What struck me as I read it was the translation of the word “awe.” I’m used to that word being translated as “fear.” Whenever the word is translated as fear in relationship to God, we often understand it as “the fear of the Lord,” which Scripture over and over again defines as a healthy spiritual reality, despite what modern teachers tell us. Here in the English Standard Version, the translators chose the word “awe.” I like this translation because I think it clearly states what Luke is trying to describe. In those early days, everyone was in awe of what God was doing.
As I started to dig into this word, I found that it was translated from the Greek word “phobos” which is where we get the word phobia from. This word is used across the New Testament to describe two seemingly different realities. One is the fear of something that is dreadful, but the other is a fear of God that spurs Christians to grow in proper relationship to Christ. So while I don’t doubt that fear is a proper translation, as I’ve thought about “awe” as it’s translated in Acts 2, I’m wondering if awe might be a closer English word to what Luke was trying to describe.
Why else would the New Testament say the following:
- So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (Acts 9:31)
- Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others… (2 Corinthians 5:11)
- Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
- …submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
- …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling… (Philippians 2:12)
- And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile… (1 Peter 1:17)
Now go back and look at each of these passages and in the place of fear, replace it with awe. It’s not that fear is the wrong word, so much as it doesn’t touch the depths of fascination and respect that our English understanding of fear communicates. Imagine the church multiplying because it walks in the awe of God, persuading others about the reality of Christ because our hearts are awestruck by who He is, purifying ourselves because we’re so caught up in awe of God. Imagine a body of believers who conduct their lives in awe throughout their time on Earth…that is so awestruck by what God is doing in other believers that they submit to the Christ they see in each other! Living in the awe of God has a powerful influence on the way we live our lives.
I still believe that the church needs to return to the practices of Acts 2:42, but I’m starting to wonder if the church doesn’t desperately need to recover the “awe of God.” What if instead of just repeating the practices of the early church, we did them out of the awe of God and what He is doing?
Now awe is a funny thing. We can’t produce it in ourselves. God produces awe of Himself in the human heart, but we can learn to walk in it. We can hunger after the kind of experiences the early church had. We can seek to encounter the same Christ that worked miracles among the early church. We can lay aside our lesser fascinations and begin to fix our hearts again on the one we are supposed to live in awe of–Jesus. As we do, awe will grow. We’ll encounter Him more. As we encounter Him, our awe will grow.
When we have this awe of God glowing white hot in our hearts, it’s terribly easy to declare the goodness of Jesus and stand against persecution. Others will see it and turn to the Lord as well, especially as God shows up in the midst of those circumstances. In some crazy sort of way, as we experience the awe of God in our hearts, it whets the appetites of those around us and quickly others become hungry to encounter Jesus.
Friends, I’m writing today to encourage you to get an awe of God. If you’ve lost it, if you’ve never had it, or if you just want more of it, go back to God and ask Him for it. He will give you more awe if you ask.
Who knows? It may even be the start of a church planting movement like we see in the book of Acts.
Yesterday was a hard day. It was the kind of day that would normally discourage me and cause me to wallow in self-pity for more than a few days. The good news was as I was preparing for the event that made my day hard, a Pharrell Williams song started playing in my head. Now, that’s not unusual, because Pharrell’s song “There’s Something Special” has been a song my kids and I have been listening to and singing since we heard it in Despicable Me 3.
But this time, it was different. This time, as I heard the words, I heard them as if the Lord was singing them back to me. I started singing along and felt the Lord draw close to my heart as I sang the song:
There’s something special on the other side of this moment
And it’s about what you and I decide
And it’s important for you to remember we did this together
And finally, they’ll know the story of our lives
It was more than just a song. It was an invitation to remember that no matter how bad the day got, no matter what went wrong or right with yesterday, my reward wasn’t what happened yesterday, but what waited for me “on the other side of this moment.” As I sang and received from the Lord, I could sense He wanted me to know there was a reward for treasuring Him in that moment, not the outcome.
We weren’t promised ease in this life. We were promised joy and trouble. William Barclay wrote, “Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” How do those things go together? How is one absurdly happy and in constant trouble?
Much of it, I believe, is done by keeping our eyes on the reward that awaits us for perseverance, faithfulness, and loving well. This reward may be found to some degree in this age, but it is fully realized in the age to come. There is an eternal reward that is stored up for us that is so easy to lose sight of right now, but it’s real and designed to encourage us when things are difficult.
Friends, regardless of what you’re going through, “there’s something special on the other side of this moment.” We need to remember that even the trials and difficulties we encounter here are forming something is us…something that can receive a reward greater than we can contemplate. Don’t forget the eternal things that are being stored up for you, right now, in this moment, based on your obedience.
It will strengthen you to follow Jesus.
I just returned from a short trip to Kansas City. We went for a wedding of some dear friends, but it was a good excuse to make my way there to see some people I haven’t seen in far too long. The funny thing about our trip is I usually am looking for something “substantial” to happen: An important connection, a time of pouring into a friend, a time of being poured into by a friend, or a chance to do a little ministry. This time, none of those things happened. Instead, I got to love and be loved.
And what’s amazing to me about that is how often I forget that being loved and giving love is the point. I’m the first to point out that the pursuit of knowledge makes us proud but doesn’t profit us, but that’s only half the equation. The profitable part of understanding knowledge doesn’t build us up is knowing what does: love. Love is what causes the church to grow and be built up.
This weekend I saw that: through the family that hosted us and treated us like family, through the many, many hugs I got throughout the wedding, through friends who made time in their schedule and bought us pizza, through the friends who made time for us even though we just dropped in with no notice. There was no knowledge transfer, no official “ministry” activity, but I feel built up on the inside.
One of the friends we saw this weekend has always modeled this so well. I remember a time about 12 years ago where we spent time with a couple and I walked away from it feeling so empty. My wife pressed me on why I felt that way, and the only thing I could do was bring up my friend from Kansas City: “Whenever we’re with him, I just feel so loved. I don’t feel like a project or like I have to be entertained or entertaining. He just loves people.” It wasn’t that the couple we were with was bad. Instead, it was I realized the absence of the kind of love my friend from Kansas City shows when we’re together. Seeing my friend again this weekend reminded me of how essential love is toward building up the church.
Friends, knowledge inflates us beyond what we are, but love builds us into what we can be. As the church, we can be puffed up beyond what we are, which is not good. We could forsake the pursuit of knowledge, which would at least keep us from pride, but won’t take us very far. Or we can begin to grow in receiving love, finding our identity in being loved, and share the love we have received. If we can do this, in a hundred ways that are intentional and a million more that are spontaneous, we will build the church.
Join me, will you? Join me in pursuing an understanding of God’s love for us at a deeper level. Join me in accepting the ridiculous, undeserved, unmerited, never-stopping, never-giving-up, always-and-forever love of God. And when you have received it and have no more doubts about your status of being loved, will you share that love with someone else, just because?
Because that that kind of love builds the church.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Recently a brother in Christ who is dear to many of us hear in Iowa suffered a massive heart attack. Rick Lumbard is the Director of Wind and Fire Ministries, a man of prayer, and a servant of the Lord that has been used in a number of peoples’ lives throughout our city and the state. He currently is unconscious and in a hospital in Des Moines. Would you join us in prayer for Rick as we believe for healing for him? He has a wife and several children that would be thankful for the prayer support.
This is far more costly than any amount of money you can give. It will be inconvenient. There will be times of frustration. It’s not the most efficient process you’ve ever been a part of.
But that time spent pouring over God’s word and praying through the issues of the heart and eating and laughing together and teaching/learning to share the Gospel and sometimes even doing nothing at all…all of it is investing in someone in a way that will pay off down the road, possibly in a way that you’ll never see.
Looking back over the history of those who have discipled me, its pretty clear that the most meaningful contribution many of the people in my life have given me was not a new teaching or a skill. They simply opened up their homes, their lives, and their calendars to me. I learned the most from those who made time to show me who they were.
We live in a rushed society. There will always be a temptation not to be generous with your time, but the most effective disciple makers will be those who spend time with those they are discipling.
Who are you spending time with?
God desires to be known.
Yet, often in modern Christianity, we settle for less. We settle for meetings, teachings, books, conferences, and running through the motions. A worship service may be exhilarating, God may feel near, but the real work of drawing near to God can remain undone.
God desires to be known.
Yet, often in even house churches and organic churches, we focus much on how we meet together, what we do when we gather, who should or shouldn’t be leading, or what gifts are manifesting as we gather. We work to make Christ the center of our meetings, but sometimes in all the work we miss drawing near to God.
God desires to be known.
So we tell other about Him. We go on missionary trips, we spread the message, and we hone our Gospel presentation. Yet, often in our attempts to make Him known and tell others about Him, we become a weary worker…more like a publicity agent for Christ than a friend who introduces Him to another friend.
Still, God wants to be known.
Some of the things listed above aren’t wrong. In fact, some of them are good things, but they are designed to be fueled out of a relationship with God. God desires friendship with His people. He desires not just to be obeyed but to be loved and enjoyed. He wants friends who know His heart and base their actions out of this friendship, not out of duty.
Don’t just give yourself to duty, Christian. Give yourself to Christ. Let your obedience flow from knowing Him. Talk to Him. Draw close to Him. It’s why He came in the first place.
God still wants to be known.
Often, discipleship in Christianity is focused on gaining more knowledge instead of growing in love and faithfulness. This causes us to pursue knowledge, thinking we will be faithful once we understand more.
The problem comes from an misunderstanding of the nature of discipleship. For many of us, when we think about discipleship, we picture a person sitting in a classroom with a book in front of them instead of people running a race or training for war.
Discipleship at its very nature is not passive, purely-mental learning. Instead it’s learning to obey what Jesus said and do what Jesus did. It’s going to the lost. It’s proclaiming the good news. It’s making other disciples. It’s serving others. It’s equipping the saints. It’s sending others. It’s serving the poor. These are actions that reflect biblical truth, not lessons learned in a library.
Because of the tendency for us to understand discipleship as purely mental learning, we’ve stopped talking about discipleship and started talking about “obedience-based discipleship1.” It’s not that we don’t teach people what the Bible says. It’s that we teach people how to obey what the Bible says, which is the only way to build your spiritual life in a way that will withstand the testing that will come (see Matthew 7:24-27). Obedience to a truth is how we know you fully understood it.
Compare this with our current training strategies in the West. Often we teach people truth and hope that people perform them. When they show back up again, we teach them again, but this time something new, because they heard what we taught previously. There is an assumption that if they heard and didn’t ask questions, that they absorbed our teaching and understand. Often the exact opposite is true.
This tendency to sit and absorb instead of learn and apply is at the heart of why we don’t see movements in the West. Movements move. There is a going, doing, action quality to them that makes them a “movement.” Our Western mindset allows us to come and sit and feel like a participant by hearing a teaching without ever necessarily obeying. In order for us to overcome this in the West, we must begin to teach and model training among the churches in a way that provokes people to obey and rewards obedience.
Jesus isn’t after our mental understanding. He wants us to understand and use our mind, but He is after us loving Him with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength (Mark 12:30). He’s after the complete person. So we must train our hearts, souls, and strength to love and serve Him, and not just our mind.
This begins with obedience-based discipleship.
1We are certainly not the first group to adopt the phrase. In fact, it’s so widely used in discipleship making movements that its hard to pinpoint who first used the term.