I didn’t expect to wake up this morning to the Holy Spirit’s conviction, but you never know when God is going to whisper to you, or hit you with a sledgehammer! Part of my reading today brought me to (Acts 15:12) which says, “And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.” There’s a lot packed in to one verse which I’d like to comment on, but let me just say at the start that this convicted me about how I listen to reports. So, this is a bit of confession, since I’ve heard “reports” for decades but often listened to them half-heartedly or not as intently as I should. You know what I mean, we listen but we’re not listening. Or, we listen, but we’re not hearing! I am also guessing that I am not alone in my dilemma or practice either. If it’s a church service, and I am preaching then some of this might be the result of really being focused on my message, but that is really not an excuse as the whole part of a worship service is worship, and not just my part. No, what I’m talking about is really a heart problem that affects my auditory capacity (my hearing).
The problem is that we can fall in to the habit of taking things for granted that should really feed our faith in God. Let’s face it, we hear so many reports: reports in Sunday morning service about ministry endeavors over the weekend, or during the previous week. Some are about what God is doing in our local church while others are reports of people ministering in other places or churches they’ve been invited to. Some special reports from some of our evangelists, a good deal are reports from overseas and some of our missionary works in different countries. Some reports are the variety of outreach and local ministry expressions that some of our people are involved in. You’d all agree about the tremendous excitement of one of the pastors giving announcements about upcoming church activities. :-) Then there is the “mother of all reports,” the testimonies given during our Bible Conferences, even if they are held to three minutes in duration. We certainly do try to showcase “reports from the field” of what God is doing in our baby churches, and through some of our pastors. I know that I’ve been guilty of not giving my full attention or appreciation for what is being communicated.
So, let me share with you a few thoughts that have been bathed in repentance and being cleansed by the Blood of Jesus to help me put into practice in the future.
The Importance of the Assembly. First, I’d like to point out that the text says “the whole assembly.” Wow! Does that ever happen, that the whole assembly is present at one time in a service? Relax, this is not a guilt trip to boost attendance. I realize people’s work schedules often get in the way and have to be sorted out. I know that people are gone on vacation or other things as well. I am well aware that sometimes for people even to make it to church qualifies almost as a minor miracle of sorts (which is why I’m not always offended if someone starts to doze off in church, although I will qualify this more in a bit). No, the statement is important because it lets us know that behind all this is a view that understands the importance of assembling together regularly, and the age-old tendency is to neglect that. (Heb.10:23-25) lays things out for us, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” They’re all connected you see: a steadfast confession of hope and faith, being able to love and build up one another, all of this is connected to a lifestyle habit that gives priority to assembling together as the Church. The text says to ignore this is to let some bad habits develop in our lives. You see, it’s in the assembly where God is speaking like no place else. The original meaning of the word “church” gives us insight. It comes from the Greek word, ekklesia that meant the “called out ones,” and the history of the word refers specifically to those called out to assemble together in order to hear the king’s message.
The importance of Paying Attention. Back to our scripture which says “they fell silent and listened.” Whoa! They were not talking to their neighbor or floating in and out either physically or mentally. They were not checking their hair and make-up which they did just 30 minutes ago. Your baby is fine in the church nursery, and rest assured, if there was a problem, you would be the first to hear about it and be called. They weren’t hanging out in the hallway or courtyard, you know, “fellowshiping.” No, it says they fell silent and listened; they were giving their full attention to something! I’ve been convinced for a long time of the discipline and the art of paying attention, and the difference it can have. I don’t have time to go in to great detail here, but one of the cultural symptoms of our distracted age is A.D.D.H. (Attention Deficit Disorder + Hyper-activity). I don’t know if there’s a specific gene causing this, but I do know that spiritually such a thing exists and we’re warned repeatedly. “Just make sure you stay alert. Keep close watch over yourselves. Don't forget anything of what you've seen. Don't let your heart wander off. Stay vigilant as long as you live. Teach what you've seen and heard to your children and grandchildren.” Translated, pay attention, not just for your sake, but for those near and dear to you. I really believe that the challenge of attention and intention is a major issue, especially today; and there is no such thing as putting your walk with God on “auto pilot.” (Heb.2:1) clearly warns us, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” You see, this has always been a problem with human beings, but I believe it’s amplified in our technological age. Albert Mohler wrote, “We are all living distracted lives that promise only to grow more complicated and distracted in years ahead. The discipline and stewardship of attention is a matter of great and unquestionable urgency.” I’m sure that resonates with all of us. I mention it because it is an important quality of Christian discipleship. Mohler again emphasized, “People who cannot maintain mental attention cannot know the intimacy of prayer, and God does not maintain a Facebook page. Our ability to focus attention is not just about the mind, for it is also a reflection of the soul. Our Christian discipleship demands that we give attention to our attention.”
God’s Instruments. In this case it was “Barnabas and Paul” and their missionary journey to the Gentiles. You talk about something that was a true paradigm shift, this falls into the spiritual earthquake category! This is not just limited to the seeming “heavy weights” like Barnabas and Paul, but what about what God does through YOUR life! Even if it doesn’t get expressed or recognized, it is just as important as what God is doing through church planters or globally. You too can be a “chosen vessel” unto God. That’s God’s will for your life! That’s all any of us will really be anyhow, we are called to be vessels through whom God can move.
News That Is Fit To Hear. We are inundated with information today. The phrase “information overload” is not an exaggeration. We are inundated and overloaded with information at almost every turn. Technology has brought to our fingertips a staggering amount of information and news sources today, and at real time. Speaking for myself, I have stacks of articles, books and other resources that I need to get to, which I might need more than one lifetime to accomplish! But, news that really matters and news that lasts longer than the regular news cycle today is NEWS (REPORT) ABOUT WHAT GOD IS DOING! Barnabas and Paul were relating and reporting “the signs and wonders God had done through them.” Jesus said “heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall never pass away.” I love Peter’s perspective in (1Pet.1:24,25) when he said, "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever." And this word is the good news (good report) that was preached to you.” He is contrasting what will be eternally significant from that which at best is temporary and fleeting. That’s the news I want to be tuned into!
My point in all this? It’s not just that we become good spectators. No, God called us to be active participants, but part of that is giving attention to our attention. How does the song go? “Who’s report will you believe? We shall believe the report of the Lord....” Let’s give heed to God and the reports of what He’s doing in and through people’s lives, both here in Tucson and around the world. Solomon captured this best when he said, “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” (Prov.25:25) All the good reports that we hear will bring a needed refreshing to your soul and mine. There’s an awesome promise backing all of this up, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” To me that says the best is yet to come and let’s believe and contend together for “greater thing.” That way there will be more reports to tell! At least I’m committed to trying to do a better job in the future.....so join with me!