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“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:42-47, ESV

I once attended a World Religions forum when I was in university.  The panel included a Jewish rabbi, a Free Will Baptist preacher, a well-versed Muslim layman, and a representative of the Bahai faith.  I’ll never forget the closing comments spoken by the rabbi.  “If you want us to believe in your Messiah, give us a reason to.

God told Israel in Deuteronomy 32, that because they provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, he would provoke them to jealousy with a foolish nation.  And in Romans 10-11, Paul tells us that we, the church, are that foolish nation.  We are those who were not looking for God, yet he showed himself to us.  We are the ones who should be provoking Israel to jealousy!  And when we examine our lives, our collective life as the church, the question must be asked: “what have they to be jealous of?”

What is it about the early church, a group by no means perfect, struggling through various doctrinal and moral issues, that accomplished this purpose?  Certainly, just as Jesus himself had done, these people were provoking jealousy among their earthly brethren.  The answer can be found in the above-mentioned verses in Acts 2.  That is the picture of what the church is supposed to be:

A people collectively devoted to the teaching of Christ – the good news, the words of life!  A people experiencing God, being captivated by him together, seeking him together, praying as if it really makes a difference!  The power of God, evident all around them.  The ability to open the clinched fists that hold so tight to life’s physical sustenance and freely give it.  Out of love!  And collective worship.  Collective thanks.  Genuine, joyful thanks to God.

A community experiencing God’s grace together, seeking him together, and thanking him together, as shown in verse 47, grows.  The Lord added to their number day by day!  People could not ignore this radiant family.  They could not ignore the power displayed in their lives and in their message.  And they either responded in anger, persecuting them, or they were conquered by God’s irresistible grace.  And in either case, God was glorified.  The church was being the church!

I’ve been given the kind grace to be in the midst of such communion with fellow saints.  I’ve seen a small glimpse of it.  And rather than lament the loss of what once was, I want to praise and thank God for what has been given.  And I pray for him to pour it out once again, in greater measure.  I pray now, here where I am, that he will strengthen his church, that we will be united by a common preoccupation with the glory of God.  That we would seek him, his word, his love, his grace, his power to accomplish his will and further the kingdom.  I offer thanks to him for all he is and all he’s done and will do.  Because I am convinced now, that “eucharisteo precedes the miracle.”

To my knowledge, there is no substantial Jewish community near my part of Shanghai, but there are millions without Christ.  I pray that we, the church, give them all the reason they need to believe in our Messiah!