I had the opportunity to teach from Acts 3:1-10 this past Sunday at CCCTO. Throughout the morning, we asked ourselves the question: “do you see the lame beggar“? You can catch the recorded podcast on iTunes, or stream it from our website, where the PowerPoint is also available for download.
Often when we approach the scriptures we instantly make assumptions. For example, Walt Russell in his book “Playing with Fire” describes how we often read the gospels with a bit of a tilted lens:
…the increasing tendency in our reading of the Gospels is to reduce them primarily to sources of insight about ourselves. For example, we read about Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee, and we think it is about the storms of our lives…However, the Gospels were primarily written to tell us about who Jesus is, what He did, and why He is the only, true object of our faith. If we change this focus, we distort the very essence of the Gospels…In other words, instead of putting ourselves into Jesus’ place and learning how to disciple others as we read the Gospels (a secondary emphasis), we should put ourselves into the disciples’ place by identifying with them in their relationship with Jesus.
Returning the passage in Acts 3, when we ask whether we see the lame beggar, we probably jump to the conclusion that we are like Peter and John and that there is more we need to do to reach out to others. We assume that others are the lame beggar and that we are here to help them (there’s quite a bit more that we covered such as the lame beggar’s progression from sitting outside to not just standing but leaping and jumping – for the rest of that message you’ll need to download the sermon). We emphasize what we should be doing as Christians. Before we realize it, we begin rallying ourselves around a cause to try and do more. And slowly but surely the focus shifts to morality.
While this may ignite a bright flame of active engagement in “doing good”, I’ve found in my own life that that flame burns out quickly. To be clear, I am not advocating that faith is merely an academic pursuit of knowledge. James 2:17 helps us to see that faith and works come as a package. However one leads the other, faith comes first. Just as the wise man built his house upon the rock, we must make sure that the foundation we’re laying for ourselves and the future generation is one that is set upon a solid understanding who God is, our sinful nature, Christ’s death on the cross, and the implications for mankind. The wise man both knew where to build his house and actual did build his house on the rock. Never forget that on the outside both of those houses looked the same. When (not if) the storm came, one stood and the other crumbled.
Unfortunately, this emphasis on “right living” leads us to a place where our so called “faith” is just another thing we “do”. We spend so much time talking about what we should be doing and how the world needs us to do more that we forget what has been done (by Jesus) and what every person’s true need really is (Jesus). We miss the big picture and see the Bible as a book about “right living” rather than the story of God’s plan of salvation, fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Growing up, I confused “right living” with true faith. I felt that I was “in good standing” because I was inviting others to youth group. I lived a relatively moral life by my own standards (which were in some ways influenced by what I learned in church). I wasn’t getting into too much trouble. By my own standards I was a pretty darn good guy. The world doesn’t need someone to make life better for them by telling them how they should live. Jesus didn’t come to earth to teach us about community service, Jesus came to die for you and I. Remember that He came to rescue us.
The plea is for church leaders, Bible study leaders, Sunday school teachers, parents, and all believers to make Jesus the main thing in ministry.
Let’s consider how we can go from saying “let’s keep the main thing the main thing” to putting it into practice. May we all say as Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
1 Corinthians 15:3-4