Series: Church Around the Table
We’ve been going through Church Around the Table. We’ve been trying to define what the Church is. There are a lot of different thoughts — whether the Church is good or bad—that the Church is is based on people’s definition of the word.
In the book of Ephesians, Paul is laying out what he thinks the Church is. He was saying it at a time when the Church looked nothing like it looks today. It was a fledgling movement that was basically about to be snuffed out by Roman persecution. There was not much to it. But he was talking about it as being this Body, this Bride, and this family that is going to fill to world in every place with the fullness of who God is. And everyone would laugh at him, for the most part. But, sure enough, here we are a couple thousand years later, and the Church is a powerful entity.
We also define the Church both as an organization and as an organism. The organization of the church is like Living Streams—or whatever church you grew up in. It’s an organization that is supposed to be a good house, a fruitful environment for the organism, which is the Church, which is you and I—the people that Jesus died for, the people who are following Jesus, the people filled with his Spirit. Living Streams is just an organization that will come and go as the sands and winds of time change. But the organism will continue to go on. My job is to be a leader of an organization. What I try to do is make sure that this place is a really good house for the organism of the Church.
So we’ve spent some time defining that. You can go back and look at some of those things. The organization has had good seasons and bad seasons, no doubt about it. But the organism has continued to grow into this beautiful thing that is the fullness of God in every part of this world. It is the single, most dominant force for good the world has ever seen. Any true historian would say that it is just amazing what these people have done in this world. We’re going to talk a little more about that.
We’re trying to get this concept Around the Table to help us understand that Church is not something that happens for an hour on Sunday mornings. Church can happen there, but what Christians are supposed to do happens outside of these walls and outside of this Sunday morning context, for the most part. This is just supposed to help us, encourage us, teach us, equip us, so that we can go be the Church outside. So that’s where we’re trying to get people’s minds to think about your own home. Or when you’re having a little lunch break at work. Church can happen around the table.
For me, one of my first real, powerful church experiences was around food stamps, with a friend of mine who was loving on me and caring for me, but he was living on food stamps. We talked about Church happening in a 15-passenger van. For Jesus and Peter, Church first happened when Peter had a boat, and Jesus came and hung out in his boat for a day. Peter left feeling really dirty. And Jesus said, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of that.”
We’ve been spending the last two weeks talking about the Church that was happening around the table at the Last Supper. Are you with me there? We looked at Matthew, Mark and Luke’s account. Those are three of the four gospel accounts. They really focused on that moment when Jesus was having his last meal with his disciples. When he was trying to give them that final message, that final teaching that would stick in their minds. What he says to them is, “I’m giving you my body and blood.” And he hadn’t gone to the cross yet, so they were thinking in that moment about all the times that Jesus had cared for them, served them, saved them, and healed them the last three years of walking with him. That Jesus, who they now realized is a lot more than just a man. He’s their teacher, he’s their rabbi, he’s their Lord and Savior. He’s actually served them and given of himself for three years.
He’s saying, “You guys know, this is my body. This is my blood. I am giving it for you. have given it for you.” He was also alluding to the moment on the next day when he would physically offer his body and blood as a sacrifice for their sin and the rest of the world.
So when they finally remembered that moment of Jesus’ teaching around the table, and then they knew of the crucifixion, the message was so powerful in their lives that they completely devoted the rest of their lives to that, even to the point of being martyrs for that cause. What Jesus was trying to teach them was, “Just as I have given body and blood for you, I want you to now go and give body and blood for others.” It’s a heavy thing.
So Church is not a picnic. Church is not a little club. Church is not easy. It’s the hardest thing you will ever do, if you you really want to follow Christ. The covenant he made with those disciples was, “Just as I have given body and blood for you, I want you to now go and give your body and blood for others.” It’s intense. It’s heavy. Another way to put it is, “Just as I have loved you, I want you to go love others.” It’s a very, very high, hard calling. And last week we talked about how he empowers with his Spirit to do that.
The next week we looked at John and saw how he also talks about the Last Supper, that Church Around and Table moment, but he never mentions the body and blood. Not to contradict them, but he wants to focus on a different thing. He said when they first walked into that room, Jesus shocked them by taking off his outer clothes, wrapping a towel around him, getting the basin that was there by the door, and he started to wash his disciples’ feet—which was something that a lowly servant was supposed to do.
He washes their feet and he does this very cleansing, very kind, very humble way of caring for them; and it was so important that John, 60 years after Jesus rose from the dead, writes that as his account of the final message of Jesus Christ. And Jesus said, after he did that, said, “Now I want you guys to go and do as I have one unto you.”
We talked about another way that Church is supposed to be going on. When we go into this world, to seek to cleanse the world. To seek to wash the world—refresh the world—instead of condemn the world. That’s the call of what Church Around the Table is supposed to be. Giving body and blood and seeking to wash and cleanse and renew people around us.
That’s what Church is. Church happens when we do those things. No matter where you are in this world. No matter what frame of mind you’re in. Whatever.
I want to illustrate how this happened after Jesus left. Jesus sends this message. He establishes these things, and then we have the book of Acts. Now Jesus is gone. The followers of Jesus, who have made this covenant with Jesus, are now practicing this. We see in Acts 2:42 (MSG):
41-42 That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
43-45 Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.
46-47 They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.
This is now Jesus’ teaching imparted to his people. Jesus is now gone and this is an account of what took place just a few months later. They were now practicing the way of Jesus. Those who learned this lesson, those who were imparted this lesson, those who got to watch Jesus do it for three years, and then it all culminated on the cross—they now started to walk it. I love these people. I love Jesus for sure. But I love these people because they were doing it without Jesus there in person. How he was there with the Holy Spirit. But these people were like you and me. They didn’t have a clue what they were supposed to do, but they had some teachings from Jesus and then they had the power of the Holy Spirit.
I love looking at the book of Acts. It’s like, “Okay. Okay. I can get into this.” It’s also challenging because they got to see some really cool things happen. But their practice was in the temple and then house to house. That’s what we’re trying to get into our minds. It’s good for us to gather together, encourage one another, and celebrate what the Lord has done. But it’s also important for us to think about Jesus showing up outside of this place: in our homes, our workplaces, Life Groups, and things like that.
Acts 5:41-42 (NIV)
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. ‘
They had just received a rebuke and a flogging from the Sanhedrin.
42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
Here are some accounts from the early book of Acts and what was taking place. The time frame was probably about 60 a.d. when this was going on. But I want to borrow some Roman historians’ words about the Church. We’re going to go extra-biblical here. This is not in the library of Scripture. But these are some Roman historians that were writing around 100 a.d. and around 350 a.d. They were describing these followers of Christ and what they were like. They obviously don’t think that they are right. They don’t like them, necessarily. And there is persecution, so there are some heavy things. But I want you to just understand that these people were practicing this way in such a profound way, that the Roman historians were taking note of it, as well.
Here’s a Roman official named Pliney writing to another Roman official named Trajan around 100 a.d. He says,
Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, the stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserved to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly, but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred Rome.
And here’s what they were guilty of, according to Pliny:
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food—but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden public associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
There’s a lot to take in right there. But around 100 a.d. this Roman official was talking about these Christians, and how they kept getting together before dawn. They would get up before dawn and they would sing some sort of hymn to this Jesus, as if he was a God. And they would have this time together and then they would continue it on from house to house. They would have this fellowship. They would care for one another. They would do all these things.
Then you go further on and there’s this Emperor Julian around 360 a.d. He says this:
The Christians were considered atheists because they didn’t believe in the polytheistic gods of the Romans and Greeks. It’s kind of weird, right? Because they only worshiped one God they were atheists—because they didn’t believe in all the gods.
Atheism has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor, but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.
So three hundred years later, after Jesus was gone, this is the testimony of a Roman emperor, writing about these Christians who had become a huge problem for them; because they were doing things like rendering service to strangers and caring for the burial of the dead. They were caring for their own poor and also for the Romans’ poor. They were giving body and blood. They were washing people’s feet—not just their own—but those around them.
What history teaches us is around 316 a.d. is when Constantine became emperor, and he basically took away the ban from being a Christian. It wasn’t illegal to be Christian anymore. It was a big move. What was illegal, and what Paul talked about as being this beautiful thing, but it was just this fledgling, persecuted movement in the Roman Empire had now become something that the Roman Empire said, “Ok, what you’re doing is actually so good, we can’t deny the beauty of it, so it’s no longer illegal.
And this was in 360, so there was a lot of debate about what to do about it. So in 390, Christianity became the religion of the Roman empire. And Rome has a very different story from that point on.
The power of this movement. The power of the people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, giving body and blood, washing one another—actually caused the Roman Empire to be completely turned upside down. That’s the Roman Empire. We’re just dealing with America. There is just so much beauty and power if we can get this right. If we can be who Jesus has called us to be and wants to empower us to be.
The second thing that I think we need to notice, as we read these same Scriptures, and we think about Church Around the Table, is that true church happens when we give body and blood; and we wash one another and wash the people in this world; but Church also happens when the life of Jesus shows up. So that Acts 2:42, remember that whole phrase that talked about how they devoted themselves to the apostles’ doctrine, the breaking of bread, fellowship and prayer—it says that they were caring for one another in a really beautiful way. And it says that all of these signs and wonders started showing up all over. It was just as if, when Jesus was alive and Jesus would show up, healings would happen, miracles would happen, wonders would happen. They just followed everywhere Jesus went; because the life of Jesus was being manifest into the world.
Now, what was a shock, and something that the book of Acts writers were marveling about— that Jesus is not here in body, but the life of Jesus kept showing cup in the same way. The manifest presence of God kept popping up. They’re having a little time together, all of a sudden somebody comes in that is sick, or can’t see or whatever. The next thing you know they’re leaving and they feel better or they can see. The life of Jesus. Those things kept popping up.
The disciples were harkening back, thinking about when Jesus first came on the scene. He had just been baptized by John the Baptist. He had just spent time in the wilderness. And now he’s coming back full of the Spirit and ready to do his ministry. He starts out going to synagogues and reading a verse from Isaiah that says (Luke 4:18, 19):
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And then he sits down and everyone’s looking at him. Jesus says, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” It was a big moment, where Jesus is like, “Watch out. It’s on.” And, sure enough, as he goes out from that place, some would reject him, some would come to him. And those who came to him with any kind of illness would be healed. The life of Jesus was showing up. The promise of Jesus, followed by the life of Jesus.
And we talked about John the Baptist in Luke 7. He believes Jesus is the Messiah. But now he’s in prison and he’s about to lose his head. And, like any of us, he’s like, “Hey, Jesus. I think one of those things you mentioned was ‘setting the captives free.’ But I’m still here.” So he sends some of his friends to say, “Hey, Jesus, are you the one? Or is there another one who might set me free. Because I’m not free. I’m sitting right here.”
And Jesus responded to him and said (Luke 7:22):
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
Jesus said, “John, look at the fruit that’s on the tree and then tell me whether the tree is real or not.” What he was saying was, “Yes, this is it.” And it’s a hard thing for John to hear and process when it doesn’t happen—to trust God in those moments. Jesus is saying you can judge the tree by the fruit. The life is showing up everywhere. The kingdom of heaven is breaking into our world, and we’re seeing the evidence of it all around.
What was so amazing was, again, he was there with the same guys that he had the Last Supper with. In Mark 16, he says to them:
15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Now plug your ears if you don’t want to have Jesus mess with your life.
17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
Jesus is saying, “Look, I told you it would happen. It happened. John was wondering, I reminded him it’s happening. And now I’m going to go away and, guess what? It’s going to keep happening.”
And the disciples were like, “Well, how’s it going to happen if you’re not here?”
And Jesus was like, “Those who believe in me, those who are following my way, those who continue to do the things that I taught you to do—as you do them…”
…the life of Christ will show up. The manifest presence of Jesus will show up. And when it does, things like this will happen. Sick people will get healed. You’ll speak in new tongues. You’ll cast demons out of people so they can be free. Something about snakes and poison and whatever.
So here we are. We got to see Jesus promise that. We got to see it show up in the book of Acts. But this is 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. Where’s the life of Jesus? And you in your relationship with God and your journey, maybe you’re saying, “Jesus and all this is crazy stuff!”
I totally understand how you can think that. So you have a decision to make. Are you going to step into this family? Are you going to start following the way of Jesus, hoping and believing that the life of Christ will show up? And you’re sitting around a bunch of people who are saying, “Yeah, he shows up.”
Some of you are saying, “I’ve been following Jesus for a while but I haven’t seen a lot in my life. Maybe I’ve seen it in others, or I’ve heard other people talk about it. But they’re kind of crazy, so I don’t know if they’re telling the truth. Is it for me too?” And the message is, “Yes. It is.”
And then there are a lot of people in this room who, if you really sat them down and asked them, “Has the life of Christ shown up?” They would look you in the eyes and say, “Yes.” And some would say lots of stories and some would maybe just tell you a couple. But Church happens when the life of Jesus shows up. It follows the believers.
In Mark 16, Jesus said, “Now it’s your turn to go and do these things.” The apostles experienced it. For us at Living Streams, here in this one small representation of the family, we’ve been able to see the life of Jesus show up. I actually asked Pastor Kurt, who loves to pray for people to be healed, to start cataloguing, you know, like they did in the book of Acts—start listing them. This date, this time, this is what happened and this is how we followed up to make sure they weren’t just having a moment. But like, a week later, a month later, we checked in and, sure enough, there it is.
We had a guy, I just heard, that had a problem with his shoulder. He had surgery and then he had done something and re-hurt it. He was so bummed out. Then in one of our church services, just a few weeks ago, he was singing and thinking about how much his shoulder hurt. He felt like the Lord told him to lift his hands in worship. And as he did, he said his arm kind of got warm, and got healed up. Then he was like, “No, that can’t be right.” But the pain has been gone for over three weeks now. I don’t know what that does for you or what that doesn’t for you.
Kurt started pulling out all these stories. I was like, “Holy Moly, there are a lot of stories.” But some of them are hard to verify. And then some of them, a month later, are like, "I don’t know why, but the pain is back.” I don’t know what to do with all of those things.
What I can do—I can offer to you as one person, just like the gospel writers did, my account of what Jesus has done and how his life has shown up to me.
First of all, when I was about fourteen years old, I didn’t know any of this stuff. I didn’t really care about this stuff. I just wanted to play basketball. I was at a retreat with friends. Kurt was actually one of the guys that was leading the retreat. I was there because there were some friends and there was a gym and you could play basketball. At one point they were having a time—and I didn’t understand what was going on—at one point one of my friends was saying “yes” to one of the things the pastor was saying about being baptized in the Spirit of God.
Again, I was not paying attention. I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew that at one point there was a circle of everybody and they were all putting their hands on him in the middle and praying for him. Because I was his friend, I thought I should probably do something. I was putting my hand on them and all I could think about was my hand. I was like, “This is weird. Does that person think I’m weird? Is this weird? I don’t know this person that well, but I can’t reach the guy.” All I was thinking about was my hand. That was the full extent of what was happening for me and my fourteen-year-old brain.
But I could hear people start to speak in tongues. I didn’t know they were speaking in tongues. They weren’t speaking English and I thought, “Okay. People do that—maybe.” I’m not joking. I have no reason to make this up. But, as this fourteen-year-old, in this very weak moment of trying to love on my friend and say, “Hey, yeah, I care about him,” I started to speak in tongues just a little bit. I started to speak in a language that wasn’t familiar and it was short. It wasn’t long.
I went right back to being just as self-centered and crappy of a teenager as I could be. Again, I had no framework for it all. I just thought, “Well, that was weird. Was I just mimicking them?” That was it. I literally did not think about it again until I was eighteen years old and I was in a little Bible study school and they were teaching on baptism of the Holy Spirit, they were teaching on the gifts of the Spirit and they were talking from the Scriptures about this thing called “tongues.” And I was like, “Whoa. Wait a sec.”
And it was funny, because at that point—you’re going to crack up—but at that point I was trying to figure out if tongues was right or wrong. I was trying to figure out if it was a good thing or a bad thing. But I had a problem, because I didn’t know anything and it happened. And the only thing I could think was just that God, in his mercy, was basically just kind of pouring out his Spirit and there was this little splash that came over to this dumb little kid.
God knew the story. God knew what was going to happen and, in his mercy, he was like, “Watch this.” And he let a little splash over on this kid. So now I’m having to learn about something that had already happened in this moment of Church that was taking place where we were trying to care for this guy and love him. The life of Jesus showed up. And I didn’t even know it until years later.
And then you continue on and he talks about speaking in new tongues. I was with my wife and my one-year-old daughter and we were totally diving into all that the Lord had for us. We felt that he wanted us to go to Belize, to this village that we knew about, and just love on these people. Go give body and blood and to wash their feet. We were there, doing it as best we can, not really sure what we were supposed to do.
One morning, early, I heard this guy yelling from the little dirt road that was next to our house. “Hey, Pastor David!” I looked up and it was just getting light. He said, “You’re needed in the other part of the village.”
So I got dressed and went down there. He had a bike for me. We rode bikes to the other side of the village. I walked upstairs, still trying to get my eyes to stay open. There was an older guy who was reading Scriptures about demon possession and those type of verses. There was a lady and her daughter sitting on a couch, crying. They looked like they had been through a lot. I just sat there and watched this happen. And then he prayed for them. Then we walked down the stairs.
He looked at me and said, “Do you have any experience in this type of thing?”
And I was like, “Like getting up early? No, I don’t. Honestly. I don’t. You can see on my face, no, I don’t have a lot of experience in it.” But I knew what he was referring to. I just kind of smiled and was like, “I don’t know.”
We walked over and there was a young man, probably about twenty-one, and he was with two friends who were sitting on the ground. He was sitting on a chair and was writhing up and down and making some moans. We walked over there. Obviously, he was looking to me to do something. I didn’t know exactly what to do. I mean, I knew some Bible verses and so I actually grabbed his hand. I knew his name, so I said, “I’m here. I want to try to help.”
I grabbed his hand. I was nervous, because in the Bible sometimes, you know, demon-possessed people are strong. Then he started squeezing, but it didn’t end up being that strong. It was strong, but it was just normal strong.
I got right next to his ear. All I could think to do was to say, “You’ve got to call on the name of Jesus. Jesus is the only one who has authority. Jesus is the only one that can save. You’ve got to call on the name of Jesus.”
At first, he was just kind of writhing, so I was just going up and down with him a little bit. At one point, it seemed like he was trying to speak, but he was choking up. We just kept trying. It was about eight or ten minutes of repeating this. At some point, he started saying, “Jesus, help me. Jesus, help me. Jesus, save me. Jesus, save me.”
Then he just went limp. Again, I don’t know what to do at this moment, but he’s limp and his eyes are closed. I had this thought, “Ask him what he sees.”
So I said, “What do you see?”
He said, “One of them left.”
I was like, Oh, no. What do you mean one of them left? And at this point, I just said, “Well, how many are there?”
And he said, “There’s one more.”
And I was like, “Okay, that’s not too bad.”
I don’t know! I don’t know what to think. So, I said, “All right. Let’s call on the name of Jesus.”
As soon as he tried to call on the name of Jesus, he started writhing again. We went through the whole process again and he went limp again. I said, “What do you see?” (It worked last time!) “What do you see?”
And I’m not joking. I’m not trying to make this sound better. He said, “A man in white told me to go to the church.”
I don’t know anything about the man in white. But I was like, “We’re going with him. We’re going with him. He’s talking about church. He’s in white. Sounds all right. Let’s do this.”
So we got him up and we walked him down to the church. Right as we were about to get him into the church, we were like, “This is cool.” In some ways, I’m like, “This is amazing.”
We got him to the church and we were trying to get him into the church. He started screaming and kind of pulling back. I don’t know if this is spiritual or not, but both of us lowered our shoulders and just smashed him into the church. But he was in the church now and he was okay. So I don’t know if that’s part of what the Bible teaches, but it just felt right at the moment. So he was in there. And there’s more story to tell about things that the Lord spoke to him.
We actually went to town. We came back and he was in a different place. He left the church and it was all happening again. They had garlic and crosses all over him. We had to get the toff of him. There’s more to it.
But I’n offering to you that, for this guy this was a significant moment where he experienced some freedom from something that was freaking him out. But for this guy, it was also significant. It was like the life of Jesus was showing up. And here, in another moment, where either Jesus was or wasn’t—Jesus was.
I could tell you more stories about healings and about how the Lord has shown up and those things. We are kind of out of time. But we’re going to keep sharing these things. If you want to hear more stories, talk to Kurt or talk to me if that is something you’d like to hear more about. If you have stories to tell, share those stories in your Life Groups or in other moments, if you can.
The life of Jesus is the fuel that we run on. If Jesus stopped showing up, we really don’t have anything. We just have a social club. But Jesus is showing up. He’s showing up Sundays. He’s showing up outside of this place. That’s the call. That’s the hope. That’s the prayer that we have.
Let’s close in prayer. Bow your heads and take a moment to allow Jesus’ Spirit to speak to your heart, to quiet your heart.
Jesus, we’re hungry for your life to show up. We know you rose from the dead. I pray for those who haven’t ever experienced your life connecting with their life. I pray that today, Lord, they would ask and you would answer, and they would become part of your family and experience your great salvation. Thank you that you pour out your Spirit, Lord. Fill us anew. In this week, as we’re going through our lives, I pray that you would awaken us to moments when you’re wanting to impart some special gift; and we would be obedient, courageous and faithful, and leave the rest in your hands.
©️2019 Living Streams Church
7000 N Central Avenue ∙ Phoenix AZ 85020 ∙ 602-957-7500 ∙ https://www.livingstreams.org
Scripture is taken from Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture marked MSG is from The Message, Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson