Monday, July 11, 2016

A Christian Community

Acts 2:40-47

Introduction
            If there's anything the violence of the last month has taught us, it's that our world is in desperate need of God.  I am starting to lose track of all the violent attacks reported on the news.  Less than a month ago, a gunman went on a shooting rampage and killed 49 people and injured even more at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  Just this past week, videos were released of two separate incidents where black men were shot by police officers who are now under investigation.  (Regardless of who's right or wrong, it is a terrible trajedy and telling of the kind of world we live in.)  Then, on Thursday, five police officers were killed and seven wounded along with two more civilians when a sniper opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in Texas.  Our world is in chaos.  We desperately need God to save us from ourselves.  We all need to repent and turn our hearts back to God before it's too late.
            I long for our nation to turn back to God.  It is something I have prayed about for decades.  It is why I am a preacher.  Here’s something I wrote in my prayer journal way back on June 29, 1999--even before I became a preacher:
“Lord, we need You more than ever.  Please work in the hearts of every man, woman, and child on this planet.  Revive us, Oh Lord.  Turn our hearts back to You.  Save us from these crooked ways.  Bring us back to You.”
This has continued to be my heart's desire for 17 years.  It has directed my life and my ministry.  I’m not alone.  I believe there is a longing in many hearts for our community, our state, our nation, and even our world to turn back to God.  I long for this.  Don’t you?
            As we long for a more godly community, we have different ideas about what that looks like.  Some wish the community to be more like it was in the “good ole days”.  Some long for a more progressive community, where we are more tolerant and open to people who are different than us. Who's right?  If we don’t know what type of community you are aiming for, how can you hope to achieve it?
            Rather than aim for our own worldly ideas of a Christian community, let's look to God's Word.  There was a time when the Church community lived wholeheartedly for God.  Let’s read the Scripture to see what pure Christianity, pure Godly living, pure revival looks like.

Acts 2:42-47
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

What were the characteristics of this early Christian community?
            First of all, we see these Christians were devoted. We sometimes hear about parents who are devoted to their children; who would do anything for them.  Sometimes perents are so devoted they smother their children or do too much for them and spoil them.
            We hear about sports fans who are devoted to their team; they won’t miss a single game—whether in person or on TV.  They dress in their team’s apparel, decorate their homes and cars with their team logo.  The most extreme
fans are so devoted they might even paint their faces or bodies for the game.  I’ve seen cheese heads at Packers games shirtless in the dead of winter in Wisconsin!
            The early Christians in Acts 2 were devoted to God.  Oh, that people in our churches today were more devoted to God than they are to the things of this world!  Oh, that we were devoted like the Christians in Acts chapter 2!
            The early Christians were devoted to the Apostles' teaching.  The Apostles spent three years with Jesus.  They learned from what he said and what he did.  They were personal witnesses of his death and resurrection.  In turn, the Apostles passed Jesus’ teachings on to the Church in Acts.  
            These early Christians—who were so close to God, whom we should imitate—were devoted to the Apostles' teachings.  They didn’t try to change the Apostles' teaching to fit their lifestyles.  They didn’t try to make exceptions for themselves.  No.  They humbled themselves, repented of any behavior that was contrary to the teachings—whether sinful things they had done or good things they had left undone—and devoted themselves to living the way Jesus said they should live.
            The Christians of Acts 2 passed these apostolic instructions on to others as well.  They challenged their family, friends, and the people of their community to repent of their sin and turn to God by following the Apostles’ teachings about Jesus.  More and more people started coming to the Lord—and it started to change their community and eventually the whole world.
            These early Christians were also devoted to fellowship.   In other words, they were together as one mind and body.  They saw each other as family.  The bond between these believers was even stronger than the ties between brothers and sisters.  Elders treated their younger believers as their children and young Christians treated their Christian elders as parents.  Everyone in the Christian community was part of the “family of God” and it was more than just words; it was real.  Everyone had each other’s back—to the point they would even sell their possessions for the good of the whole Christian community.  No one went without because everyone was wholeheartedly committed to their Christian family.
            The Church in Acts experienced the risen Christ in their midst because they were devoted to the Breaking of the Bread (otherwise known to us as Holy Communion).  The early church was not distracted by keeping up with the Jones’, making more money, or driving a nicer car.  They were not caught up in sports or politics. They were not glued to their TVs or their Facebook feeds to see the latest gossip in the news.  No.  They were devoted to worshiping the Lord through Holy Communion Thus, they were overwhelmed by Christ's presence in their lives.  Oh that you would be more like these early Christians!  As the song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus and looked full in his wonderful face.  And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”  The Acts 2 community's closeness to Jesus through worship, fellowship, and Holy Communion made them truly alive in Christ and dead to the world, but there is more.  
            These Christians in Acts 2 devoted themselves to prayer.  It was more than just saying they would pray for one another.  They prayed with one anotherThey met every day to pray together—in their homes, in the Temple, where they worked, in the streets.  They never did anything without praying about it first.  Daily, they prayed—not for safety from persecution or death (though these were ever present and real dangers), but instead they prayed—for boldness to share the Gospel of Jesus with the dark world around them.  If you want the dark world around you to change, if you want to see an end to the violence, you must get serious about prayer.  Revival starts with prayer.  It will change you and it will change the people around you.  Soon, it will change the whole world.

What were the results for the early church in Acts?
            These early Christians lived with a powerful sense of awe and wonder.  They saw God’s miracles all around them—in normal everyday things, and sometimes in dramatic actions—healings, people released from prison, impossibilities becoming realities.
            Have you lost your sense of awe and wonder when it comes to God?  Have you become a cynic, skeptical of everything you hear about God and the church?  Have you stopped seeing the Hand of God working in the world around you?  Have you ever had a sense of wonder about God?  I suggest you devote yourself wholeheartedly to the things I mentioned before as did these early Christians in Acts.  You see how they were filled with awe and wonder.  It will work for you too.  
            Another result was the early Christians saw people being saved everyday.  The rich, the poor, men, women, children, slaves, Jews, Gentiles, politicians, beggars, merchants, idolaters, prostitutes, people of all different races and languages, were convert to Christianity—drawn by the powerful authenticity of these people who devoted themselves to the Lord with their whole hearts, who lived what they believed, who were committed to the Kingdom of God above all else.  Daily, new people became believers and the Church grew and grew until it became the largest religion in the world.

Do you want the world to be a better place, a safer place, a more loving place?  It starts with you.  It starts now.  The choice is up to you.
            The Apostle Peter told us what to do—how to find the salvation we and our world so desperately needs.  Acts 2:38, Peter said, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
            He said repent, which means turn around; go a different direction.  Stop living the wrong way and start living the right way.  Stop being unconcerned, lazy, apathetic, indifferent, silent, uncommitted, and start living wholeheartedly for God!
            Peter said, be baptized.  Baptism is a symbol.  It means we die to our old way of living and are reborn to a new way of thinking and acting.  So you must be baptized with water as a symbol, but more importantly, you must die to your old ways and start living a new life.
            Some might say, “I have nothing of which to repent.” You better check yourself again.  We all need to repent of something.  We all need improvement.  We all need to grow.  And just because you are living like or have the attitudes people held in the “good ole days” does not mean you are living right.  Some of those “old” attitudes were wrong (racism, sinful pride, complacency).  It may be that Jesus has some new attitudes and practices He wants you to learn.
            Some might say, “I don’t want things to change.  I like my life the way it is.”  Well, what can I say.  You have fallen in love with the world.  I pray the Lord will break your heart until you realize the world has nothing worthwhile to offer.  Then maybe you will turn away from the world and turn to God.
            Some might say, "We need to protest!  We've got to stand up for our rights!  We need to fight!"  Violence will change nothing; at least not in any positive, lasting ways.  Look instead at Jesus' example.  If anyone did, Jesus had the right and the power to call down 10,000 angels to come and violently change the world.  However he didn't.  Instead, he offered forgiveness and grace.  He said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."  In the end, he died on the cross for the very people who hated him.  As he hung on that cross, he prayed, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  Only love can heal our broken world.  God is love.

Perhaps it's time to repent and turn to God.