08 Priorities – Early Church Priorities (Acts 2:42)

Last week I did a Google search of things that growing churches are devoted to. I took the first eleven findings, and compiled their findings into a spreadsheet so that I could analyze them. Then, I compared them to the things that the early church was devoted to. In Acts 2:42, we find the church was devoted to four things: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer. Here are the results from my Google Search.

Early Church Priorities Modern Church Priorities
Preaching of the Word Only four out of eleven list the preaching of the Word in their top ten things to do to grow a church.
Fellowship Four out of eleven sites list fellowship in their top ten things to do.
Breaking of Bread Zero out of eleven sites list breaking bread  in their top then things to do.
Prayer Two or three out of eleven mention prayer in their top ten things to do. One of those three said that the key leaders need to pray, but did not mention that the church needed to pray.

We find the results of the early church’s priorities in Acts 2:43 and 47. Luke records that “many wonders and signs were taking place” and they were “having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The early church experienced the power of God, and saw tremendous growth. Their growth was not from people switching churches; it was from people getting saved. I believe that the modern church needs to return to the priorities of the early church. Our churches should employ modern methods, tools, and technology need to be reach our generation, but we need to return to the priorities of the early church.

07 Priorities – Leadership Principles (Acts 6:1-7)

In Acts 6 the priorities of the twelve apostles was very clear, they were going to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. But, there were some outstanding leadership principles contained in these few verses that are worth taking a look at. First, the twelve apostles worked as a team. The “twelve summoned the congregation…” They said, “it is not good for us…but we will devote…” The twelve apostles were united and worked as a team. Peter was leading the team at this point, but they were moving forward together as a team. Peter’s name is not even mentioned in the passage. A good team leader is not about making a name for himself, but bringing the team together to work effectively.

Second, the leadership wisely dealt with the problem. Most problems do not go away on their own; they must be addressed. The apostles looked into the matter and came up with a great solution. Congregations appreciate leaders that properly deal with problems.

Third, the twelve involved the congregation. They summoned the congregation, and communicated their plan to them. They asked the congregation to select seven people, which they did. Luke also records that their plan “found approval with the whole congregation.” Good leaders were unified as a team, and were move forward with the approval of their congregation.

Fourth, good leaders empower others. The twelve did not try to do everything themselves; they raised up other leaders to do the work of the ministry. In order for them to do the work they were called to do, they had to raise up others to do the other important work. The apostles raised up godly leaders, and then laid hands on them, and empowered them. This freed them up to devote themselves to their priorities, the ministry of the word and to prayer.

The fruit of their leadership was very clear. In verse seven Luke writes that “the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of disciples continue to increase…and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” Good leadership produces good fruit.

06 Priorities of Leadership (Acts 6:1-4)

In Acts 6 a problem surfaced in the church in Jerusalem. The church had grown incredibly large very quickly and some things were slipping through the cracks. The Greek widows in the church were being overlooked in the serving of meals. The complaint was brought to the apostles (the church leadership at that point), and after looking into the matter, they summoned the congregation to give their solution to the problem. They asked the church to select seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit, and of wisdom that they could put in charge of the task. Then, in Acts 6:4, they explained why they were not going to take on that responsibility themselves. They said, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The priority in their lives was prayer and the ministry of the word.

A leader’s personal priority is no different than anyone else’s priority. We are all called to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Our relationship with Christ is our highest priority. We must spend time in prayer and in God’s word. But, as leaders, the first priority in our ministry is to spend time in prayer and in God’s word. It is important for leaders to pray and watch over God’s flock. It is important for shepherds to feed their flocks, and it takes a lot of time to study and properly prepare messages from God’s word. A leader’s priorities must be to spend time in prayer and in God’s word. The apostles in Jerusalem made the right call. 

05 Priorities – Honoring God With Our Wealth (Proverbs 3:9-10)

One of the things that I have never hesitated to preach about in church is money. God rebuked Eli for honoring his sons above Him. Then, He said that He will honor those who honor Him. As a pastor, I have always cared more about honoring God than honoring sons. I have always striven to teach people to honor God in all areas of their life, including their finances.

In Proverbs 3:9-10, God tells us to “honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.” The principle of honoring God with our wealth is not an Old Testament law that we are no longer under. Honoring God is a PRINCIPLE that began in Genesis. Abel honored God with the first of his produce. He gave God the fat portion, meaning the very best. In Malachi, people were not bringing the whole tithe (10%) to Him and they were not bringing their best offerings. Notice what God said in Malachi 1:6-7. “’’A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’ You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is to be despised.’”

When we receive our income from our jobs or other sources, we should give the first of our produce to the Lord. Our tithes need to be a priority, before we do anything else with the money. In 2018, God is still looking for a people that will honor Him with the first of their produce, and with their fat portions. God promises some pretty neat benefits for those who honor Him with their wealth. (See Proverbs 3:10, Malachi 3:10-12, and Luke 6:38 to see just a few of the blessings for honoring God with our wealth.)

04 Priorities – Right Relationships (Matthew 5:23-24)

The Lord laid on my heart to do a series of blogs for the body of Christ on priorities for 2018. So, you have seen an increase in the number of blogs this past week. One of the priorities on the Lord’s heart is right relationships. I love to worship God. I like my individual times of worshipping the Lord. I love corporate worship. (There are many aspects of worship, not just song, and God loves all of our worship of Him.) But in Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus gave us a priority that is higher than worship. He said, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Broken relationships with others can hinder our relationship, fellowship, and worship of the Lord, so Jesus said to get those relationships resolved before presenting your offerings at the altar. (A wrong relationship with our wife will also hinder our prayer life. See 1 Peter 3:7.)

Many years ago at a church I was pastoring I went early on Sunday morning to be with the worship team as they prepared for the morning worship service. One of the guitar players came in that morning and I could see that he was troubled in spirit. I went over to him and inquired about what was going on. He replied that he and his wife had a fight that morning. I asked him if they had resolved it. When he replied that they had not resolved it yet, I shared with him Matthew 5:23-24, and sent him home to work things out. I told him if he made it back to church in time for service, great, but if not, then that was okay. Getting right with his wife was a higher priority than presenting his offering of worship that morning.

Recently, a man shared with me that I had offended him and his wife. I immediately apologized to him and asked for forgiveness. Then, I drove over to their house and asked his wife for forgiveness. (In that particular incident, I had not done anything wrong, and really did not need to apologize. But, I took full responsibility for the misunderstanding, humbled myself, went to their house and apologized in person.) We must be committed to right relationships.

God loves our worship and wants us to worship Him. But, He has prioritized our relationships with one another over our worship. Two thousand years ago Jesus gave us this priority, and in 2018 it is still a priority, and is on the heart of God for His church. All of us, including pastors, need to lay down our offerings and get our relationships right, and then go back to presenting our offerings at the altar.

01 Priorities – Knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8)

When planning my workdays I often make a list of all the tasks that need to get done. Then, I prioritize the list, putting the most important tasks on top. In our spiritual lives, there are many things that are extremely important. We know that we are called to serve one another. We are called to share the gospel with people. We are called to help the needy. There are many things that are important in our lives, so it is important to know our priorities so that we always get done the most important things.

The Apostle Paul understood priorities and what was most important. In Philippians 3:8, he said, “I count ALL things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” On Paul’s priority list, knowing Christ was at the very top and there were no close seconds.

Mary understood the priority of knowing Christ. One day Jesus came to Mary and Martha’s house. Martha was busy preparing the meal to serve Christ and Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him. Martha was busy serving while Mary was busy getting to know Christ. Martha got a little upset and complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping her. Look at Jesus’ response in Luke 10:41-42. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” There are many things in our lives, but only one is necessary – knowing Christ.

Here are several things that you can do in the coming year to know Christ more. First, create a list of all the names and characteristics of God that you find in your daily reading of the Scriptures. Second, meditate on these names and characteristics. Third, use the list in your praise, worship, and prayer times to hallow His name. Fourth, learn to listen to God’s voice and take time to sit at His feet each day and listen to Him. According to Paul, ALL things pale in comparison to getting to know Christ better in 2018.

03 Priorities – Seek First His Righteousness (Matthew 6:33)

In Matthew 6:33, we are told to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things (basic necessities – food, clothing, and shelter) will be added to you. It is not just His kingdom that we must seek; we must seek first His righteousness. John tells us that everyone who has his hope fixed on Jesus purifies himself because Jesus is pure. He said that no one who abides in Christ practices sin. Instead, those who follow and abide in Christ are going to practice righteousness. (1 John 3:3-7)

Many think that if you had prayed the sinner’s prayer and have asked God to be your Savior, then everything is going to be okay. You are doing great if you go to church once or twice a month, leave a few dollars in the offering, and hug a few folks along the way. In Matthew 7:21-23, some people got turned down at the entrance of heaven. They claimed that they had prophesied, performed miracles, and cast out demons, but Jesus’ answer was very clear. “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” We must come into a relationship with Christ, and getting to know Him is a priority. But, learning to practice righteousness is also a priority. We cannot continue practicing lawlessness and claim that we are abiding in or following Christ.

James talks about looking intently at the word of God, as if looking into a mirror (James 1:21-25). As we read the Scriptures every day, we should be looking at our own lives at the same time to see if our lives line up with what we are reading. We should ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and show us any areas that do not line up with His righteousness. When the Holy Spirit shows us things in our lives that do not reflect His image, we should confess these sins to God, ask His forgiveness, and thank Him for forgiving and cleansing us of these things (1 John 1:9). Then, we should use the Scriptures as a prayer guide, and pray these Scriptures over our lives. Finally, we should make applications of these Scriptures. When we begin to apply the Scriptures to our lives, we will be seeking His kingdom and His righteousness.

02 Priorities – Seek First His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33)

At the beginning of a New Year many people look at their lives and set some New Year’s Resolutions. The gyms see a significant increase in activity in January, reflecting a desire by many to lose some weight and get in better shape. Our resolutions reflect the priorities that we have in life. In Matthew 6, Jesus addresses some anxieties and concerns that people had about food, clothing, and shelter. We have a tendency of prioritizing these necessary things in life. Jesus then tells us not to be anxious or worry about these things, and to trust our Heavenly Father to provide these. Instead, He tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

The kingdom of God represents the rule and reign of Christ. When we pray for His kingdom to come here on earth as it is in heaven, we are praying for His rule and reign here on earth. So, when Jesus tells us to seek first His kingdom, we should be seeking His rule and Lordship in our lives. We are seeking to submit our will and our lives to Him, and to allow Him to have first place in every area of our lives. We are seeking Him to rule in our work place, in our home, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, and most importantly, in our personal lives.

How do we seek first His kingdom? Here are some practical things to help us seek His kingdom first this year. First, begin each day in prayer. Spend time honoring and worshipping the King. Set a New Year’s resolution to spend a certain amount of time in prayer. For some, spending fifteen minutes would be a good start. Another person may want to schedule an hour each morning in prayer. Second, spend time filling your heart and mind with God’s word. Make a goal of spending a certain amount of time reading the Bible. Again, some people may set aside fifteen minutes, while others may spend more time. Find a good daily Bible reading program and use it so that you have a good reading plan. Third, take just a few minutes to journal or write down the things that stand out to you in prayer and in God’s word each day. You will find if you do these three things that you will see more of God’s rule and reign in your life in 2018.

Celebrating the Birth of Christ

We celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas. Why did God’s plan require Jesus to come as a baby. The main reason for it can be found in 1 Timothy 2:5. “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” The fullness of God dwelt in Jesus in bodily form. (Colossians 2:9) Jesus came as the mediator between God and men. A mediator represents both parties. Jesus was both God and man and He is the only One who could fully represent God and fully represent men.

We find in Luke 1:35 that an angel named Gabriel came to Mary and said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. Jesus was the Son of God, but He was also the Son of Man. In Luke 19:10, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Jesus was both the Son of God and since he was born of a woman, He was also the Son of Man. It was necessary for Jesus to be born as a child to a virgin who conceived Him by the Holy Spirit so that He could be both the Son of God and the Son of Man. It was necessary for Jesus to be both so that He could be the mediator between God and men. We needed a mediator and a Savior because our sins had separated us from a holy God. Jesus came to seek and to save us, who were lost, and He reconciled us to God. This Christmas we celebrate the coming of our Mediator and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Travel Safely

Yesterday, there was an Amtrak train in Washington that derailed over a highway overpass, and so far six people have been listed as dead. Seventy-two others were taken to the hospital. The focus of the investigation has been on the speed of the train. It was traveling at a speed of eighty miles per hour in a section of the track that had a speed limit of thirty mile per hour. The speed limit was low because of the turns in that area. There were signs posted two miles prior to entering that slower zone but the train did not heed the speed limits. There is a required Positive Train Control (PTC) safety system that is required on trains. It automatically warns the driver of the train to slow down, and in the event the driver does not slow down, it automatically slows the train down. The President of Amtrak told reporters that the PTC was not operational on that particular train.

All of us that travel want to know that the vehicles that we are traveling on are in good working condition. All of us want to know that all of the equipment is working. We want to know that the drivers of the vehicles are concerned about our safety, and will follow regulatory signs and procedures.

I believe that our concern for safety is not limited to trains. We want our families to be safe. We want to make sure that our homes are secure. We also want to make sure that our churches are safe. We want to know that the drivers (pastors) of our churches are doing their proper maintenance, spending time in the Word and in prayer. We want to know that the drivers are going to follow Biblical principles and warnings. We want to know that the drivers care more about our safety than how fast they get somewhere. We want to know that the drivers will take us safely to our destinations. I believe all of these are legitimate desires when looking for a church home. At the Connection Church, we care about safety. We care about our passengers. Our pastoral team is diligent in spending time with the Father, and in leading the flock according to Biblical principles. Our crew is friendly, caring, and safe. If you are looking for a safe church, consider traveling with us.