THE INVITATION TO GREATNESS
Chuck Allen, Pastor
I once served a mission agency that believed the way to change the world was to plant more churches, and then plant more churches that plant more churches. And while I agree that the world is better when we have more churches, let’s take a look at our community and ask, do we need more churches that look and feel like the 95% of churches across America. Churches that exist to build steeples and massive buildings and edifices to stand in honor of their accomplishments? Maybe we need a few churches that actually model their focus and foundation on the 1st century church.
You know this is week two of our series ”The Invitation.” The book of Acts is truly an invitation to today’s church to act, react, worship and serve like the first church that Jesus birthed and will someday return to claim.
You might be shocked to know that the first church that was birthed in the days following Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and following His 40 days of ministry and teaching and after His ascension back to Heaven…That church didn’t have choir robes, pews, chairs, cool music, stately hymns or denominations. This first church didn’t have the need to be called first baptist, first methodist, first presbyterian or the church of god, church of christ, first assembly of god or a happening greek name that 1st century hipsters would be drawn to.
Maybe we need to return to the original church, it’s calling and purpose. Not the church you remember from up north, or when you were a child, or how your parents sang or if you had Sunday school, or small groups. Before there were Youth Groups, hymn sings, gospel quartets or contemporary christian music, radio, bookstores, schools, clubs and FCA.
Okay, Chuck, we get the idea. The first church was different, better and simpler. But this is 2016, church is like everything else, it’s complicated. Really? I think the Book of Acts is inviting our church to model the first church. We don’t need a contemporary church, or a missional church, or a traditional church. we don’t need a relevant church or a seeker sensitive church. We need to be an ancient church, filled with people that believed, acted and reacted like this first church. So, Chuck, what are those four attributes and activities? And how do we do it? Why does the church exist? Well…The Book of Acts Invites you to be that church!
In a poll conducted two years ago that included more than 500 evangelical churches and more than 20,000 members – 89% said, “The church’s purpose is to take care of me and my family’s needs.” 11% said the purpose of the church is to win the world to Christ. I know, Right?????
I read the story of Charles Conn and the time when he lived in Atlanta. He noticed in the Yellow Pages, in the listing of restaurants, an entry for a place called the Church of God Grill.
The peculiar name aroused his curiosity, and he dialed the number. A man answered with a cheerful, ‘Hello! Church of God Grill!” He asked how the restaurant had been given such an unusual name, and the man at the other end said, ‘Well, we had a little church down here, and we started selling chicken dinners after church on Sunday to help pay the bills. Folks liked the chicken, and we did such a good business, that eventually we cut back on the church service. After a while we just closed down the church altogether and kept on serving the chicken dinners. We kept the name we started with, and that’s Church of God Grill.”
Well that would never happen here! Really? What if you replaced chicken dinners with your preference of color, or building or how communion is served, or what we should wear to church, or how we sing, or who should lead…I think you get the picture.
The closing verses of Acts chapter two describe the early church. It is presented as a model. It wasn’t a perfect church, it had hypocrites in it and fought doctrinal error just as churches today. But the church in the book of Acts was a great church because it had focus. And it’s calling us to be that kind of church!
The first church knew that it should be doing something and knew what that something was. It had experienced the life changing power of Jesus and had also caught a vision of how that same power could change the lives of the people they knew. And they were doing something about it. In short, they knew what their business was and they new how business was!
40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Four things happened in the church where the Spirit led, and they are INVITATIONS to Sugar Hill Church to join them.
WHERE GOD’S SPIRIT IS LEADING THERE IS SOUND TEACHING
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching ……”
These new Christians under the direction of the Holy Spirit were hungry for God’s word. God designed the church to be a place where His word is proclaimed and explained. A commitment to God’s Word is foundational to the growth and spiritual health of every church. The backbone of a healthy Christian life is teaching. Peter says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” 1 Peter 2:2. Where the Spirit leads, a love for God’s word follows. This is why connecting to a group is such a BIG DEAL! That’s why we offer MAN CHURCH and dozens of groups for women, men, couples, students and children.
To follow the leading of The Holy Spirit is to follow the Holy Scriptures!
WHERE GOD’S SPIRIT LEADS, THERE ARE MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship… This kind of fellowship/relationship didn’t exist before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This the first use of the Greek word koinonia in the New Testament. Every time this word is used it denotes some kind of sharing – either sharing something with someone or sharing in something someone else is experiencing. The foundation of Christian relationship or fellowship is giving. Giving of ourselves, our finances and our hearts.
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
That fact that they “had all things in common” does not, as some imagine, indicate communal living. The first Christian fellowship was not a commune, nor does the passage offer support for such a notion.
Here’s the big picture understanding of this passage…
1 – This is not some form of primitive communism or Bernie Sanders socialism. It’s plainly evident from the imperfect tense of both verbs translated “selling and sharing which indicates that the selling and the giving were occasional, in response to particular needs, not once and for all.
2 – The first church didn’t sell everything as some have tried to say. Some still had houses as verse 46 indicates. The point is, the relationships/fellowship of the early church rested on a mutual generosity and sharing. Fellowship cost something in the early church. The truth is, we will have meaningful relationships/fellowship only when we make it a practice to reach out to others and give something of ourselves.
A kid’s Sunday Group Leader asked her eager 10 year olds if they would give $1,000,000 to missions. Yes, they all screamed! ‘Would you give $1,000?’ Again they shouted, ‘YES!’ ‘How about $100?’ ‘Oh, YES we would.’ They all agreed!! ‘Would you give just a dollar to the missionaries?’ she asked. The boys exclaimed ‘YES’ just as before except for Bobby. ‘Bobby,’ the leader said as she noticed the boy clutching his pocket, ‘why didn’t you say ‘YES’ this time?’ ‘Well,’ he stammered, ‘I HAVE a dollar.”
3 – What was really happening, was that personal property was sold “as anyone might have need.” It wasn’t mandated, forced, coerced, of demanded. It was a heart that wanted to sacrifice and give as needed! That’s why backpacks and schools and community matter. It’s why we ask you to give and serve and go.
In Acts 5:4 we can see that such selling was purely voluntary. Where the Spirit of God leads, God’s people not only relate to the God’s Word – they relate to each another in fellowship and sharing. What do our relationships and sacrificial giving say about us? About you?
WHERE GOD’S SPIRIT LEADS, THERE IS POWERFUL WORSHIP
“46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
You are invited to powerful worship!
When the Spirit of God leads, the hearts of God’s people move up toward him and their relationship with him intensifies. Two words help us to understand worship, they are PREPARATION and PARTICIPATION. “If worship does not change us, it has not been worship. To stand before the Divine is to change. Worship begins with holy expectancy; it ends in holy obedience.”
The challenge for most of us is that: “We Americans tend to worship our work, work at our play and play at our worship.”
In verse 47 they are described with “glad and sincere hearts.” We have something to be excited about. OurSavior loves us, God has forgiven us, the Lord provides for us, and a Savior who empowers us.
We should come to worship with an excitement like we were invited to the party of the decade, not the reluctance of going to root canal.
The only way I know not to be excited about joining in worship is either not to know Jesus or to have drifted away from Jesus. And before you leave here today you can make sure that neither of those situations is yours. If you don’t know Him, you can come to know Him today. If you have drifted away from Him, you can return to Him today.
WHERE GOD’S SPIRIT LEADS THERE IS SINCERE EVANGELISM
41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
When the Spirit of God leads, God’s people relate to the world as they should. The church under the leadership of the Holy Spirit is devoted to teaching, fellowship, and worship and evangelism naturally happen.
God was at work through the people in order to bring people to Himself. These Christians were sharing with others and bringing people to faith in Jesus.
Maybe we don’t see more of God because we are not doing what they were doing – we are not really sharing Jesus with anyone.
I heard of a preacher who once began a sermon by saying, “The sad fact is that there are many people who are going to hell and most of you don’t give a damn. And what is even sadder is that you are far more concerned that I said damn than you are that these people are going to hell!” It is true.
For a true Follower of Jesus to not participate in the worship, ministry and life of a local church is inexcusable. In fact, those who choose to isolate themselves are disobedient to the direct command of Scripture.
Only when the Holy Spirit leads can there be Sound Teaching, Sharing Meaningful Relationships, Powerful Worship and Sincere Evangelism!
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