Over the past two months, we have taken a little closer look at our church. Frankly, in some ways it has been uncomfortable, and particularly as we sit on these new pews and have new carpet under us. Of course, we know that these items are not the church, but given the problems we have had downstairs and how those problems have kept us from using approximately 20% of the downstairs during Sunday School, and during God Squad during the week, matters such as carpet and furniture do have a place in the discussion.
On the second week of the series, I very briefly reviewed the history of the television. I think I surprised many of you by saying that the first set of pictures to be transferred across a set of wires was done in 1862. But TV has come a long way since then, and even within the last 60 years when it became more common for people to own televisions in their home. Rather than the black and white TVs with rabbit ears, most people now have high-definition TVs and even super hi-def TVs and can watch TV without any wires as images float past us in the air all the time. The picture has become clearer and that made watching more enjoyable.
Another major advance in clarity was the advent of the Hubble Telescope. Of course, people have been gazing at the stars for years. Telescopes are nothing new. They have allowed people to get a better gaze at the stars and planets for centuries. But when the Hubble Telescope was developed the star-gazing became less hazy, and details emerged that had never been known. Additionally, the Hubble Telescope allowed us to see so much further into space than had ever been considered.
Of course, seeing things more clearly does not always make us feel good. For instance, my wife does not worry much about what the top of the refrigerator may look like. It isn’t that she doesn’t care, but because she cannot see it, she has no idea how dusty is can become. But if she gets a step stool to get in the cabinet above the fridge, then her next stop includes a paper towel and cleaner to clean it off – unless I have done it recently. (And yes, having used this example, the top was cleaned this week!)
As we conclude this series today, I want to move beyond the church to YOU as an individual. Because if you are a Christian, then you are a part of the Church. So, let us use the passage from Acts 2 to consider how you are doing as it relates to what the early church did. Because if each of us – that is, a collection of you’s all do our part, then indeed, we can emulate the early church and we will see God move in ways we may not have considered.
Are You Devoted to the Word of God? (Acts 2.42)
The early church was devoted to learning. They gathered every day to learn. They came to hear the apostles teach them – from their experiences and from their study. Of course, the apostles physically saw Jesus and were present when Jesus did many of the things He did. But Acts 6 tells us that the primary method was proclaiming the Word of God. That is the great equalizer. You and I may not have been physically present with Jesus, but we have the complete Word of God available to us every day. The apostles were devoted to studying it and teaching it. The people were devoted to hearing and learning it. Are YOU as devoted to God and His Word?
Are You Devoted to Fellowship with Others? (Acts 2.42)
We are all devoted to someone or something. As I frequently mention, a large group of people will be show extreme devotion each Sunday various football teams. I am not anti-football. And I like the Chiefs, but where is my true devotion? Because fellowship is not just being around others or the 75000+ people at Arrowhead today would be experiencing deep fellowship. And yet, let me argue, that they are. Most of the people at a game as Arrowhead Stadium will be Chiefs fans. Some plays will cause them to agonize. Others will cause them to celebrate. An extreme unity will be felt by most everyone there. And that unity includes suffering in the cold. On the other hand, the modern church has reduced fellowship to having meals together – and as the end of verse 42 shows, that was a part of the fellowship then. But fellowship is the sharing of life. It is wanting to spend time together. It is desiring to be with other believers. It includes encouraging one another to be better, caring for one another during times of trial, loving one another when no one else will, praying with, and for, each other (as the text mentions), and yes, gathering together regularly to celebrate what Jesus has done for us. Are YOU devoted to that kind of fellowship with others?
Are You Devoted to Sharing with Those in Need? (Acts 2.44-45)
Three times each year we take a collection to send to missionaries in Missouri (September), North America (March/April), and around the world (December). On the last Sunday of each month, we collect our change to send to two pastors in Kenya. Throughout the years, we also have other opportunities to share – such as providing supplies to the youth, coats to the students at Maryville, boxes of toys to children around the world through OCC, food items for our area’s food pantry, etc. But most of what we give comes from the excess of what we receive, not from what we already have. While that is ok in the monetary sense, it is not acceptable in the fullness of ministry. What do I mean?
Service is needed as well. As we have seen a couple of times over the past few months, God has given us all certain talents, skills, abilities, etc. We are to serve Him from what we already have – ourselves. Yes, we should give to worthy causes, but sharing with those in need will often require giving of ourselves more than of our stuff. Of course, the early church was willing to sell “stuff” in order to provide for others. But the awe that people experienced (v 43) was due to what was being done. And this is not about being at or going to church – living for Jesus means you can serve Him wherever you are and in whatever you do.
In fact, our willingness to give from what we have can change the world. As Matt Perman said, “Our work changes the world in at least two ways. First, it is through our work that we change the structures of society, and it is by changing the structures of society that we change the world.” (Matt Perman, Unstuck, p. 116)
We need to be giving of ourselves – our time and our money. Are YOU sharing with those who are in need?
Are You Devoted to the Worship of the Lord? (Acts 2.46-47)
If you are reading to this, your immediate response may be “Of course.” But is that true? Remember, the aim of this series is to be honest with who we are as a church, and that begins with who we are as individuals. Attending church on Sunday (or reading certain blogs) is fine. But worship is not meant for Sunday alone. True worship is meant for every day. In fact, I am fully convinced that the reason most churches do not fully experience God on Sundays is that the people do not take time to worship Him during the week. Our worship together on Sunday should be from the overflow of our worship individually throughout the week. Now, the early church did this differently, but they did not have radios, music apps, the internet, etc. Additionally, they were still learning to understand that God did not reside in a place (the temple), but within our hearts. So they went daily to the temple (where God had promised His presence would be) to worship – or praise (v 47) – who He was and all that He was doing. Our technology may allow us to worship anywhere, but we do not need technology to worship.
Is worship a part of your daily routine? Are you truly devoted to the worship of Jesus?
Are You Devoted to the Spreading of the Gospel? (Acts 2.47)
Last week I reminded us of the story of Philip and his instant readiness. Philip had an expectation to be used by God. Acts 2.42 shows the early church, as a whole, did as well. Verse 47 says that God added to their number daily. Last week, during Sunday School, a couple of people started asking about how the Doctrine of Election fits into the entire scheme of faith and sharing the gospel. It was a fascinating discussion for about five minutes and I just listened and smiled while they worked through it and others joined in the process. Without getting into that doctrine, let me just say that the doctrine is biblical. But so is sharing the gospel. Jesus did it (Mark 1.14-15) and He commanded us to do it as well (Matthew 28.18-20).
Yes, it was the Lord who added to their number, but the people were sharing the message. That message included words like, “Knowing Jesus changed my life” and “You should hear what Peter was teaching us last night” and “Why don’t you come with me tonight and hear for yourself?” Again, the word gospel simply means “good news.” We all share good news, but do we honestly take the time to share THE GOOD NEWS?
So, that’s five things the early church did well that we must consider for ourselves. The group then was fully devoted and the impact on the world is still being realized. The question for us: Is are we devoted? These five areas of devotion represent the five areas or our church’s strategy as well, so if we are as devoted, we can accomplish now all that they did then.
The early church was healthy and thus God did some amazing things in and through them. Fairfax Baptist Church, we can become healthier. We can do better. We can grow like they did then – maybe not with the same numbers, but why not at the same percentage rate? Healthy churches grow over time, although not necessarily at all times. A church that is growing is not necessarily healthy, but a healthy church will eventually mean growth. If we are not growing and do not grow, then we are not healthy. And, thus, we need to look deeper than the surface issues. If we are not healthy, then that means all of us have some part to play in improving ourselves so that collectively we can improve as well.
It goes back to the central question of this series: “What can I do that, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church, and for His Kingdom?”
Why should we care? Because it is not enough to be a church member...we are called to be Christ followers. Jesus said, I am the Way, so if we heed His call to “Follow Me,” we will not get lost. And when we are following the path He has set for us, we are able to bring God glory. Bringing God glory is the vision we have as a church (Matthew 5.16) and is our part in God fulfilling His promise in Habakkuk 2.14 that the knowledge of His glory will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.
For us to fully begin exchanging our expectations for God’s manifestations, we need to tend to a few practical matters as well. I spent time this week mapping out 2019 and am really excited for what the new year will bring. But to enjoy the ride, we have some preparatory work to do. This work will not be specifically related to the ideas I have mentioned today, but without having certain processes in place, we cannot function as well as we should. So, when I return, we will focus on a few key items like developing our team purposes and completing our policies and procedures manual, and examining certain systems to make any changes to allow our ministry to become more effective. These areas will be key areas of focus of 2019!
I hope you have been challenged during this series – and especially today – to more seriously consider what it truly means to be a church that is devoted to God’s purposes and not our expectations. I realize that this series has not been the easiest to consider. It is easier to live with the idol of comfort than surrendering to standing before the council to be punished for proclaiming Jesus name as we saw with the apostles. It is easier to come and go while letting others serve than it is to do our part as a hand, a foot, an eye, and ear, or whatever part of the Body of Christ God has called us to be. It is easier to complain about what we would change about the church or others within the church than to take a closer look at what we could change about ourselves so that we might better reflect the glory of God. And it is better to think that the church that began just after Jesus left should be better than we are because, after all, they had spent time with Jesus. But do we not have the same Spirit and the same power available to us?
And that is why this series has been necessary. Sometimes we need to be rocked to the core. Sometimes we need to be reminded that church is nothing about what we want it to be; rather it is what He has designed her to be. The Church is the Bride of Christ and, as such, we have a responsibility to our groom to be what He wants us to be. And Jesus is not some misogynistic, wife-beating maniac. No, Paul reminds us that Jesus loved His bride so much that He died for her. The question for us is, will we live for Him?
Jesus said He would build His Church. One would think that over time it would improve. Humans now make better televisions, and telescopes. In fact, a lot of what is made is better now than in the past. No, not everything is, but if humans can improve on our ability to manufacture items, should we not expect that the Church Jesus designed and is building to be at least as good now as it was when it was first started? I am not suggesting that Jesus needs improving, He does not, but we do. And, as we improve, and become more like Jesus (God’s goal for us according to Romans 8.29), His Church should improve as well. That is why...
The JOURNEY letter for this week is: Y – YOU.
It is up to YOU. It is up to me. But if we live our lives devoted to Jesus and what He wants from each of us individually, we will become what He wants us to be collectively as well.
PRINCIPLE: God asks us to be ready to engage with others because He wants to be further engaged with us.
QUESTION: “What can I do that, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church, and for His Kingdom?”
NEXT STEP(S): LIVE: Be devoted! And answer the question that has fueled this series: “What can I do that, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church, and for His Kingdom?”