For the last several months I have been telling you what God has laid on my heart for our church. We started out at the first of the year talking about the Priority of Worship. I believe that if we are going to see God bless Southside Baptist Church in the future, then we are going to have to make worship our number one priority. I honestly believe that God is not pleased with anything less. Scripture after scripture tells us that God longs for His people to come into His presence to praise Him, to bless Him, and to be blessed by Him. Corporate worship is where the body of Christ experiences the presence of God together and then is transformed by His mercy and His grace – empowered to go into the world and make disciples.
Second, I shared with you that I believe that God wants us to focus on prayer – shamelessly audacious prayer that comes to God seeking His face so that we might know His will because true prayer is not about getting what we want: it’s about getting what God wants. It’s about aligning our lives, our hearts, our minds, our wills with His. The Bible commands us to pray, and when we do, God promises to respond to our prayers and create in us a heart to go into the world and make disciples.
Today I want to begin a series of messages about the third aspect of God’s vision for our church, and so I ask you to return with me to Acts 2:42-47. I haven’t counted the number of times that we have utilized this passage in the past 6 ½ years, but I know it has been many – so bear with me this one more time because there is a truth here that I want you to see.
Acts 2:42-47 (NKJV)
42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Look at v. 42. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Do you see it? They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine – their priority is worship. And in prayers – they, too, focused on prayer. But do you see what comes in between? I’m not sure if Dr. Luke put these things in any order in terms of their importance, but I am almost sure that he did. In others words, if we want to be the kind of church that God is blessing with new Christians, then we need to be a church that makes worship our priority, prayer our focus, and community our goal.
The early church emphasized fellowship and the breaking of bread. Now understand something here. The breaking of bread is a reference to their observance of the Lord’s Supper, so that would put it in the category of worship, but it also was a reference to the times when they gathered around a common meal. We need to understand that there in the midst of worship and prayer there was a sense of community.
I read a story recently about the huge redwood trees in California. The largest living things on earth and the tallest trees in the world. Some of them grow 300 feet high and are more than 2,500 years old. You would think that trees that large would have a tremendous root system, reaching down hundreds of feet into the earth. But that is not the case. Redwoods have a very shallow root system. However, the roots of the trees are intertwined. They are tied in with each other. They are interlocked. So when the storms come and the winds blow, the redwoods still stand because they are all there to support and sustain each other. They need one another to survive. My friends, that is community: togetherness for the purpose of survival.
Look at the early church. It wasn’t easy to follow Jesus in the first century. Times were tough and persecution was rampant. The early believers were bound together into a community. They needed each other for survival. And while 21st century Christianity has not yet reached the level of persecution that they faced, it still isn’t easy for us to follow Jesus and truly live for Him. We face discouragement, temptation, sin, apathy, failure, materialism. We have unbelieving family and friends. There are doubts, rejections, unanswered questions. We face so many obstacles in our desire to live for the Lord that at times we want to throw up our hands and quit.
That’s where community comes in. As we face the inevitable trials, troubles, and tragedies of life on this sin-marred earth, God intends that we be supported, strengthened, encouraged, and empowered through the community of believers. As we face the storms and temptations of life, we should receive strength from each other. King David knew this well. In Ps. 61:2, he cried out to God for help saying, “From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” He knew what it was like to be overwhelmed by the trials, heartaches, and burdens of life. So he called out to God for help. And then in v. 5, he tells us that God answered his cry. How? Through the community of believers. Look at what he said, “For You, O God, have heard my vows; You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name.”
Listen to me. There are times when we are overwhelmed by life’s burdens. Times when we wonder if God really does love us and care for us. It is at those times that we need God’s people because God, in His providence, has chosen to come to us through His people. It is through other Christians that we can sense and know God’s love and care. That is why we cannot afford to stand alone. That is why we cannot risk going on our own. You see, in the community of faith, there are no Lone Ranger Christians. We need each other.
Statistics tell us that from 1/3 to ½ of all Protestant church members do not feel like they are part of the community. Oh, they know that they were received into membership, but they don’t feel accepted into the fellowship.
Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research, wrote an article that describes why Christians are disengaged like this. He says many of these people feel useless. They don’t believe they have anything significant to offer in ministry. They don’t believe they are qualified to serve in any capacity. Listen to me my friend. When God saved you, He gifted you to do the work of the ministry. Peter said in 1 Peter 4:10, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” I like the way the Holman Bible translates that first part: “Based on the gift they received, everyone should use it to serve others….” That is the second definition of community: togetherness for the purpose of serving.
Now I told you there were three reasons for Christians being disengaged from the community. The second reason is that they are hurting. Some of them have been hurt by the church and church leaders. And let me tell you my friends, I know that in my humanity I am guilty of hurting some of the people God has placed in my care, and I humbly ask your forgiveness and I repent before you and God for doing so and I beg you to come to me and tell me so that I might personally recommit myself to serving you in this community. You see, sometimes the hurts are from the past and they have been so severe that they are hesitant to get involved again. For those of you who are hurting, know that God loves you and I am doing everything I can to make sure that Southside is the kind of church that will love you and bring healing into your heart so that you can once again become an active part of the community.
Christian brothers and sisters, the greatest act of service you can perform is to speak love and healing into the lives of hurting people. Hebrews 10:24 tells us that we should come alongside them and motivate them to “love and good works.”
But there is another reason that Christians become disengaged from the community, and I fear this might encompass the largest group of all. Dr. Stetzer says that some people are lazy. They simply do not want to serve. That’s why the statistic we have heard over and over again is sad but true: 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. People want to be an object of the church’s ministry rather than be a partner in it because too many of us had a me-first attitude. Folks, I honestly believe that we must develop and maintain a mindset of JOY. You know what that means, don’t you? Jesus First. Others Second. Yourself Last.
Listen. The world tells us that it is better to be a consumer than a producer, but that doesn’t mean it is biblical. If you are a Christian, you are called to the ministry. You have been sent on a mission. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” So if we are going to be the kind of church that God is blessing by adding new Christians to our community, then every one of us needs to understand how important it is to serve.
Luke informs us that all the believers were one in heart and mind. They were united in Christ into a community of faith. Indwelt by the Spirit, they possessed the mind of Christ. They made every effort to be led by God’s Spirit and to think and act like Jesus. Consequently, God used this fellowship to do some powerful things in the lives of countless believers living in a pagan, godless world. God’s plan hasn’t changed. God still desires to use His church to do some powerful things in this world by serving His church and reaching the lost.
That brings me to the third definition of community: togetherness for the purpose of sharing. V. 44 says that all the believers were together and had everything in common. Their ministry to each other included the sharing of material goods to meet temporary needs. The early church shared everything because almost everyone who became a Christian in those days gave up everything. It was Christianity at its best, and my friends, this is still God’s plan for meeting the needs of His hurting children. If we are not ministering to one another through our community of faith then many needs are going unmet and many people are reaching the erroneous conclusion that God doesn’t care about them.
Look around you today. How well do you know the people who are next to you? In front of you? Behind you? Across the aisle from you? Look around. Do you know that many of those people are hurting and in need. Some of them are looking for employment and maybe are worried about paying their bills this month. Others have just received a diagnosis of cancer and they are scared to death. Someone else’s marriage is failing and they are crying out to God that something would happen to help them hold on to their family. Someone else is shedding tears because their son or daughter has turned away from God and is living in sin. Someone else is sitting here today saying if things don’t change soon, I’m going to end my life because I just can’t take it anymore. My friends, do you know that all over this room today people are hurting, and it is your responsibility to share your love, your wisdom, your resources to help them through their trial.
The problem is that we don’t know each other very well. Our knowledge is very superficial, and we have become too satisfied with that level of knowledge. That is why I encourage fellowship before our worship services hoping that something will spark relationships and cause you to want to get to know each other because you cannot share what you have until you know what others need. That’s why I love to see God’s people walk from one side of the church to the other to greet someone that they have never met before. Maybe something will bring strangers together so that the community will be strengthened through the relationship.
We need to understand that the reason people were attracted to Jesus and the reason that people were attracted to the early church is because they loved people and they met their needs. And if we want to be the kind of church that God blesses by adding new Christians to our community then we are going to have to love people and meet their needs.
Would you bow your heads and close your eyes for just a few moments. Right now would you ask God to show you someone in this room that needs your help. Ask God to move in your heart so that you would know a need that you need to respond to. Christians, truly pray and ask God to place a burden on your heart to do something for someone today. In just a minute, we are going to stand, and when we do I want you to go immediately to that person, put your arm around them and begin to pray.
Now some of you here this morning are hurting too badly to be able to help anyone. That’s okay. You need someone to minister to you. In just a moment, we are going to stand, and I want you to come immediately to this altar. If you can kneel and pray, you do so. If you have to sit on this front pew, do so. And Christians, if God hasn’t placed anyone on your heart to go and help, I want you to immediately come to the front and place your arms around these who have come and begin to pray.
And finally, some of you need to make a public decision today. You need to be saved and become a part of our community. You need to move your membership to this church. When we stand, you don’t hesitate. You come to me and make that decision today.