Here is the Back To Church Sunday Sermon. It was a great sermon, but it was another one from the good people at Back To Church Sunday. So it was a purchased sermon but I did change a few parts of it. Feel free to read the notes, leave a comment, and download the podcast on iTunes.
Good morning everybody!
If you are a guest this morning, we’re glad you’ve joined us. I have good news for you! Sociologist’s studies over the past twenty years show that those who attend church regularly have:
- lower blood pressure
- happy outlooks
- better marriages
- less divorces
- and longer lives!
So this really is the best place to be this morning. So let’s pray and see what we God has in store for us today.
Prayer: God open our hearts to hear your word
I want to tell you the story you may have heard before about this thing called “The Church.” I believe that the church is the most misunderstood institution on earth. I hope that you’ll walk away with a new appreciation for this institution that God loves so much.
Bill Hybels writes that the local church is the hope of the world. And I believe that.
Find a Bible and turn to Acts 2:42. Pew Bible page 772 if you don’t have a bible that is easy to understand then we have bibles in the back as our gift to you
Acts 2 is the story of the very first church, which started in Jerusalem in 33 AD. Listen to the story … [Read Acts 2:42–47.]
Napoleon Bonaparte once said that imagination rules the world.
What Bonaparte meant is that people are more often moved by powerful ideas than by charismatic personalities, legislation, or brute force. History bears that out. Throughout the centuries men and women have used extraordinary effort and demonstrated legendary devotion for a vision they really believed in.
Have you ever been compelled by a vision? Think about how far you would go because of something you believed in with your whole heart. You just KNEW in your heart of hearts what had to be done.
On September 11, 2001 as the world is falling apart a Marine named David Karnes was working as an accountant in Connecticut. When the towers fell he knew what he had to do. He walked out of his job, and went to the trade center towers and started looking for survivors. Against orders and against odds. He helped save 12 people. He understood the power of vision and knowing what “must be done.” not because it is easy or safe but because it is the right thing to do.
The history of our country is rife with examples of vision-casting leaders who captured the imaginations of the American people.
Thomas Jefferson had a vision for a free, self-ruled democratic society.
Abraham Lincoln articulated a vision of ending slavery and reuniting a nation. Franklin Roosevelt dreamed of a new prosperous society.
And who can forget Martin Luther King Jr.’s, famous, “I Have a Dream” speech that compelled our country toward a racial equality that judges people by the content of their character?
“Imagination really does rule the world.”
Two thousand years ago, a carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus burst on the scene with a vision that has changed the world. Everywhere He went Jesus inspired the imaginations of many people by painting a picture of a spiritual and relational movement like none that had ever existed before.
His teachings so riveted audiences that they went without food to hear Him tell about a God who loved them personally. They thronged to hear Him teach about a phenomenon He called the“Kingdom of God.” Jesus explained that this Kingdom was like a mustard seed, which starts out as a very small seed and grows so big it shelters birds in its branches.
What Jesus envisioned was so valuable that He encouraged children to come to it, the poor in spirit to seek it, and the rich to be willing to let go of everything they owned to enter into it.
“The Good News of the Kingdom must be proclaimed,” He would say. People would travel for miles to hear Him speak about it.
For three years, Jesus Christ proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom and then, to the shock and dismay of every hope-filled follower, He was mocked, beaten, and put to death. His disciples huddled in fear and depression. They had envisioned Jesus delivering Israel from Roman oppression and rule, and establishing a political kingdom on this earth with Him as the King. Now with His death, all hope seemed lost. They thought the Kingdom-vision was dead. Some gave up and went back to their jobs and just tried to move on.
But three days later Jesus rose in power announcing that the Kingdom dream was as alive as He was. He opened their minds to see that the kingdom He had been teaching about for three years was not a political kingdom, but a far greater one, a spiritual kingdom—the rule of God in people’s hearts.
Then Jesus Ascended into heaven where he still sits at the right hand of God, and scripture teaches that it is there that he is speaking on our behalf to God.
Forty days later, the Holy Spirit descended on His disciples in answer to what Jesus had promised in Acts 1:8, and suddenly the Kingdom of God had been birthed in a fresh new way.
It was powerful and compelling. People from everywhere were drawn to it. And they called this new movement “The Church.”
True to Jesus’ vision, the church was like nothing anyone had ever experienced before.
In that very first church, the people devoted themselves to teaching, to fellowship, to celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and to praying for one another. The atmosphere of welcome and excitement was so electric that a sense of awe and wonder was with them every time they met.
The Bible records that miracles took place in that church. One of the miracles was that people had such heartfelt love for one another that they willingly sold their possessions and goods, giving to anyone in the group who had a need.
This new thing called “The Church” was so compelling that the Bible says the people in the church met together every day—sometimes at the Temple for public worship, sometimes in homes for more intimate friendship.
The best part of the story is that the picture Jesus had painted rang true. Members of the church ate together with glad and sincere hearts. They praised God for letting them be part of this amazing movement and they enjoyed the favor of the entire city. That church was so irresistible—so contagious—that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” They became part of God’s family and part of the vision that Jesus had preached about, prayed about, and died for on Good Friday. That vision of Jesus expanded and expanded and after 2,000 years that vision is here at Harrisville united Methodist church.
Friends, what we read about in Acts 2 is how God envisions His Church, not just in Jerusalem, but all over the world, including right here in Harrisville I see it happening day by day.
The question becomes how does a church become like that original church in Acts 2?
That church, in Acts 2, pursued five purposes that when implemented can make any church compelling, powerful and influential. So listen carefully, because this is what God wants Harrisville UMC to be like, too. And it can happen starting today if we commit to pursuing the priorities the first church did.
Are you ready for this?
What Made the Church So Compelling:
1. They committed to authentic community.
In the Jerusalem church people got real. They owned their mistakes, admitted who they were, took off their masks and asked forgiveness. Community can be powerful because God Himself designed us to be in relationship with others.
How many of you wish that, just once in your life, you could be in a group where you were known and loved and served and celebrated just for who you are (raise your hands)? We all want that, right?
The first thing the Church did was commit to being real with each other.
The church is where you can experience relationships the way they were meant to be.
How did they do that? The text says they devoted themselves to the fellowship. “Devoted” isn’t a word we use much anymore because the distractions of life make it hard for us to devote ourselves to anything these days.
But look at a few lives, and you’ll see the power of devotion. John F. Kennedy devoted our nation to putting a man on the moon and, as a result, changed our perception of what was possible.
Michael Phelps devoted himself to the sport of swimming and, as a result, earned a record number of Olympic medals. Bill Gates devoted himself to Microsoft and earned enough money to cure several worldwide diseases. Steve Jobs devoted himself to computers and design and transformed an entire technology industry.
Billy Graham’s devotion to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ has led him to travel to almost every country in the world, something he’s done for more than fifty-five years.
Devotion is a good thing. Put a church full of people together who are fully devoted to Jesus and suddenly we have a group that can change our community, and our nation and our world. And all of us can be part of it by investing in authentic relationships.
The Church, energized by the Holy Spirit and motivated by a relational commitment to one another, has a power to change lives like nothing else on earth. The proof is found in numbers. Community is such a strong force that today more than two billion people worldwide are part of this thing called “The Church.” where people can feel loved and accepted in ways they had only previously hoped for.
The second compelling purpose that the very first church engaged in, was:
2. They gave God wholehearted worship.
Our nation is really good at worshipping athletes for what they’ve done. Any time a city wins a World Series, a Super Bowl, or an NBA championship, fans turn out by the thousands to meet their plane when it returns home. The city’s mayor will host a ticker-tape parade; the president invites them to the White House—we’re really good at appreciating athletes for their accomplishments.
Our response to a Super Bowl win is a lot like worship. The Bible says that worship is about giving God what He rightly deserves. This concept of worship is mentioned in Romans 11:36–12:1 says, “For from him and through him and for him are all things … Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
One of the things that made the first church so attractive was its members all possessed an acute understanding that it was God who had made them, given them breath, saved them, and provided their daily bread. So they assembled for worship every week and they worshiped.
The text says, “They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” When the Communion was served, they didn’t take it for granted. When someone needed prayer, brothers and sisters laid hands on them and prayed fervently for God to come through.
Acts 2:47 says that they were “praising God.” They worshipped God for who He was and what He had done for them. When God answered their prayers, they gave God the full credit.
The church is where God gets the glory He deserved.
The third compelling purpose that the very first church committed to, was:
3. They took their spiritual growth seriously.
I get this from the phrase in Acts 2, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” Every time one of their gifted teachers was teaching, they were listening. They didn’t sleep through church. They knew this stuff was important.
Why? Because in that church, they believed that personal spiritual growth was important. Jesus had touched them, and they wanted to become as much like Him as possible. It’s really why we’re on earth: to become like Jesus.
Lots of people take their golf game, their bank account, or their career seriously. Yet, the most important thing—our relationship with God—can often be neglected if we’re not intentional about it. The truth is that giving yourself to spiritual growth brings the greatest payoff. In 1 Timothy 4:8, the apostle Paul said, “… godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
The church is where you can become the best you you can be.
Look at the person next to you for a minute. How many of you think they could get better?
Okay, now how many of you think you could get better?
None of us have arrived. None of us are the best we can be. We all need to grow, don’t we?
That’s why God made the Church: so you could be with God and His people and learn about God and God’s ways. Which is why, starting next week, we’re issuing what we’re calling the “30-Day Church Challenge.” So that all of us can show up and grow up and become who we were meant to be.
I’ll say more about this in a minute.
Now the fourth compelling purpose that the first church pursued and that we want to strive for is:
4. They invested in positive priorities.
They invested their time, talents, and treasures in what really mattered.
In the Acts 2 church, because they had a sense of community and a sense of gratitude to God and a desire to become more like Him, the text says, “All the believers had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”
This shows they had control of their finances so that when a need arose, they not only could meet it, they got excited about meeting it. When other members of the church were in need they sold a piece of property or tapped into their savings. Today, if we are honest, most of us can’t do that.We’ve spent ourselves out of control. Ever seen the bumper sticker that says, “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go”?
These people in the first church decided they weren’t going to live that way. They got control of their finances so that they could give to positive priorities.
They lived in the anticipation that Jesus could return at anytime, so they let go of their stuff and reached out to help others and share the Good News with others. They invested in positive and eternal priorities. What are positive and eternal priorities? People. Needs. Things that last longer than a latte and go deeper than a new truck. Material things aren’t bad. But God says that the things that will last are people and His Word. So whenever possible, we ought to invest in those things.
Let me also say that I know that for some of you the budget is tight. With the struggling economy, you may be living paycheck to paycheck. But it’s not just about money. You have skills and abilities that could be used in the church and that would greatly encourage other people. Could be you can do the kind of construction work that’s always needed here at the church. Or you have a knack for computers and could help with multimedia and our online ministry. Or you are good at making people feel welcome and you could be a greeter or usher. Or you are a natural-born salesman and you could help in the outreach ministry. Maybe you have some extra time that you could invest in various ministries in the church. That’s investing in eternal priorities, too!
An old saying, “There’s only one life, ’twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
While Jesus was creating vision for this thing called the church, in His sermon on the mount, He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … but instead, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
The reality is my life isn’t going to last that long, so I want my heart and my treasure to be in heaven with the King.
The church is where our time, talents, and treasure get invested for eternity.
The fifth compelling purpose of the first church is explained at the very end of our main passage. Acts 2:47 says that as a result of all the things going on, “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
5. They invited others to join them.
After all, who wouldn’t want to be part of something where people were genuine and authentic, where God got the credit, and people were becoming more and more kind and generous?
Inviting people to that church was very easy because the people loved their church.
The church is where people get adopted into God’s family.
This first church lived in the reality that they were entrusted with the Good News of God that had the power to change people. They had the privilege of telling people God loved them, that Jesus died for them, and they could have a relationship with Him. Second Corinthians 5:19 puts it this way: “… God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” That was their message then, and it is ours today.
The reason this message is being shared with you today is because we want our church to be like this church. And we’re committed to working to become like it: An authentic community of faith that worships God wholeheartedly, is growing spiritually, is investing in positive and eternal priorities, and is inviting our family, friends, neighbors, community, and the world to become part of His family!
So here’s what we’re going to do:
Are you up for the challenge?
I’d like to invite you to be a part of this family of god. How many of you would say either, “I’m not sure I’ve ever formally accepted God’s invitation to be part of his family, I’m not sure there’s ever been a moment when I formally invited Christ into my life?” Or, “I’ve drifted from God and want to come back to Him?”
Alright, all of you who raised your hands, and any of you who didn’t, but would like to receive Christ, just pray these words.
I am inviting you into my life today.
I want you to be my Lord and Savior.
I admit I am a sinner in need of a Savior
And I invite you to be mine.
I purpose to live for you
From today forward.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The words of that prayer aren’t magical. But if you prayed them, and actually believe in the Jesus you just prayed to, all heaven is rejoicing with you right now. The Bible says that when we believe in Jesus and start following God your sins have been separated from you as far as the east is from the west, and that the Holy Spirit has come into your life. Just because you believe your life won’t be better, there will still be bills to pay and job to go to, but in following Jesus eternity is different and that makes all the difference for today.
So now, if you believe in Jesus, the challenge is to learn to walk with God in this new relationship. And I have a final challenge for every one of us today.
I challenge all of us to make a commitment to taking part in the 30 day challenge. Where we discover how to fulfill our God-given potential by engaging in the five purposes practiced by the first church.
How many of you think we can get better as a church? And, once again, how many of you think you can get better as a person?
That’s our assignment over the next thirty days. I’m going to preach on one of these five purposes each weekend for the next five weekends. Starting on September 23 at 6pm, on Sunday Nights we will gather and study the 30-Day Church Challenge book. You will get a copy of the book when you come the first night. We are asking all of us to join a Cell Group that meets during the week to grow together in authentic community with each other and go even deeper. Cell Groups meet 7pm on Monday’s at the Pratt House, or 1pm on Tuesday’s at Annie Richards’ house. And 7pm on Thursday’s at my house, and child-care is offered for that one. If you are interested see one of us to get directions.
Imagination rules the world. I believe that when Jesus imagined His Church, He imagined you as part of it. And I imagine all of you back here next Sunday and every Sunday as we become the Acts 2 Church that Jesus imagined.
Let’s pray together.