"He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that shut him in."
I don't know what to call it, but like a pretty woman or a smart politician, it's easy to spot but hard to describe. What it is, is whatever those folks in Acts had, when they were living in one place and nobody much held onto what they had if somebody else needed it.
For a lot of years, I read that passage and then hooked that to the "sacrificial giving" churches always seemed to be recommending, and that whole dying to self thing, and I thought "Ain't NOOOOO
way I'm ever gonna be able......" And we were, of course, encouraged by pastors who never really explained why we ought to DO
that in any sort of practical way except "Cuz you love Jesus". And I never felt anything toward Him .. I mean FEELINGS
sort of "felt". So I went on my merry way as a Good Little Church Member.
It didn't help any that I was in a Methodist Church and goodness knows they weren't much into the "Oh WOW" sort of miracles, and if that wasn't bad enough, we went from there to the first of THREE Presbyterian Denominations where we learnt what "cessationism" was REALLY
Then, in 1981, we fell into the SBC and so, after 20 years or so, I still didn't get why those folks were so selfless a couple thousand years before. Now, I still don't know what it was, but I'm beginning to pick up a few telltales. In no particular order:
First things first: whatever they had, whatever made them feel
like sharing everything they had with those in need, whatever that was, we ain't got much of it today. If any. They felt
like that, then, and I see no evidence that we feel like that today.
Consider how many people tithe. And at that, I still hear "gross or net?" If we won't give God what He says is holy unto Him, I wouldn't wonder that we wouldn't give each other what they need, that we have. They felt something, and acted on it, and it's something I seldom see today.
Second, whatever it is, our churches today aren't "carriers" of it. I suppose all the preachers can do is to tell us what they did back then, but maybe they ought to figure out why we don't feel like those folks did, today
What did those folks have, back then? Well .. a couple things I can think of, that we don't. First thing is that some of them had probably met Jesus. Personally. I'd think that would put a stamp on your spirit, bigtime.
Then, they were led by leaders, at least initially, who'd been with Jesus for several years. There was undoubtedly a fire burning in them, which has somehow, largely, been extinguished over the years. I see that fire now and then, now, but it's not common.
So, what didn't they have back then. Well, for one thing, the Bible as we know it. They were, indeed, living the things that became scripture, today, and nowadays we spend a lot of time trying to coax people into doing the same thing, despite the fact that we have the whole New Testament in everyone's hands, now.
They also didn't have big buildings and big mortgages (there seems to be no evidence that they did in scripture and I cannot imagine it wouldn't have been mentioned if they did). They also didn't have scripture (what of it they had) in everyone's hands, and no professionally-produced programs for teaching, outreach, taking attendance, busing people around, etc. None, that we know of.
I don't think they had a lot of theologians or theological discussions about authorized baptizers, criticism of people going where lost folks were to tell them about Jesus, checklists to disqualify folks who wanted to hit the trail to tell folks about Jesus, screening processes to throw out teachers whose views on some biblical phenomena differed from "management", etc. They didn't have a LOT of stuff, back then.
We experienced a little of this about 4 years ago. We were planning a vacation in Jamaica and I found a 4-bedroom house we could rent for less than a hotel room. So, we rented it for a week and asked two other couples if they'd like to come too. We told them we'd already blown the money for the house and we always rent a car, so if they could just get themselves there, they could hang with us for free. We had a wonderful week there, and the only dispute was over who got to pay for what. We just didn't care. Note: I'm not tooting our own horn here ... we had spent more money on a hotel room, the last time Peg and I went there, so we would have had a bargain even if we'd been all alone.
I think they had a lot more zeal for Jesus, in those Biblical times, than they did for their work! They had more zeal and more love (that showed) for Jesus than they did for telling people about Jesus. The first and great command is to love Him; loving people comes second. And true love for Jesus shows itself in the form of wanting to do
what He said.
He set out a couple examples of love for Him, that stand out clearly from 2,000 years. One was, He said that those who love Him would keep His commands
. Shortly thereafter, He said that those who love Him would keep His teachings
. That implies something radically different ... the fact that those who love Jesus wil not only want to follow instructions, they will want to incorporate everything He taught, into their lives.
That has less to do with our actions, and everything to do with what we are.
All the stuff we've been hashing over, arguing about, analyzing and complaining about for a year, has to do with being zealous for the work. Wanting to get it just right. Wanting to stop or prevent anything that might possibly be wrong, in the work itself. I suggest it has nothing to do with love for, enthusiasm for, or zeal for, Jesus. And every circle that we draw, shutting out certain people, shuts us in.
If it doesn't stop, if it isn't reversed, it's going to get pretty lonely in here.