October 27, 2019
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
3 In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. 7 This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8 and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
A couple weeks ago, I made a passing remark about Roger Bannister, the first man to run a 4min mile. Well apparently, just a couple weeks ago, another big running milestone was broken. A Kenyan, by the name of Eliud Kipchoge, was the first man to run a marathon in under 2 hours - 26.2 miles, under 2hrs, at a pace of 4:33mi. Kipchoge even had 20 seconds to spare. Kipchoge was able to pull of the feat through incredible athleticism and stamina, years of disciplined and calculated training, and maybe my favorite part: 41 pace setters, 41 people who ran part of the race with him so he could break what was thought to be an unbreakable record. And I love that image – 41 pace setters, 41 runners, who helped him accomplish his goal. And that in many ways is what the church is like, a bunch of people running alongside one another, striving together, helping each other grow.
Church Membership: Grow
We’re in the middle of a short sermon series on Church Membership and together we’re thinking through what it looks like to be a thriving and flourishing member of a local church. Last week we introduced the four commitments, four rhythms, four practices, that ought to characterize the life of every church member, ones that seem to characterize the lives of the early Christians and particularly the early church as we see described in the New Testament.
And the four are Gather, Grow, Give and Go. (They all start with the letter “G” for memory’s sake). Every Christian, and by extension, church member, ought to gather regularly and faithfully for Sunday Worship, grow intentionally – closer in their faith in Christ and with one another one, give sacrificially of their time, talents and treasure, and go and be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever they live, work, play or learn.
Last week we looked at the first one: Gather. Today, we’ll look at the second: Grow.
And while all four are important, this one I think is particularly so, and that’s because at the core of church membership is this promise to help one another grow in their faith in Jesus Christ. As church members, we say to another, “I’m committed to helping you grow in your relationship with Jesus. I know I need people around me to do that and I know you do as well. Will you commit to doing the same for me?” As followers of Jesus, we need other Christians who will be there for us in good times and bad and who will encourage and challenge us to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.
And to reiterate something I shared a couple weeks ago, one of my fears in doing this series is that you would leave here each week thinking that I want something from you. Thinking, “If I’m not a member, Daniel wants me to be one and if I am, he wants me to be a better one.” And friends, if that’s what you leave here thinking each week, then I have failed miserably. I have absolutely failed. So, please know, above all, my hope and prayer isn’t that you leave thinking that we want something from you, but rather for you. After all, I think it’s safe to say we all want to grow – we all, as we get older, want to become more loving, more patient, more gracious, a better spouse, a better parent, a better friend, a more devoted follower of Jesus. I don’t think any of us, deep down in our heart of hearts, thinks to themselves, “I want to become less or worse over time, or I’m hoping to plateau from here on out.” No, we all want to grow, whether we’re 8 or 80, we all want to grow.
And so this morning, I want us to think about – what do you and I need to grow? What are the essential ingredients? What do we have to have in our lives to help us grow as followers of Jesus?
And while we probably need a bunch of things, for this morning, we’ll focus in on two. Two things every Christian needs in order to grow, two things that we see right away from the Acts passage we looked at last week, where it says,
42 They (early church) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship. (Acts 2:42)
So there you have it, the two things we for sure need in order to grow, teaching and fellowship.
Let’s take a look at each one individually:
Teaching/Learning (two sides of the same coin)
When Luke, the author of the book of Acts, mentions the apostles’ teaching, he’s simply referring to all that the apostles taught, all that they learned from their time with Jesus, as they listened to him, learned from him, followed him and shared life with him. They were simply passing along all they learned from Jesus.
And notice what Luke says, they we’re devoted to it. Not casually interested in it or simply giving it intellectual ascent. No, they committed themselves to it, they immersed themselves in it, they clung to it, they devoted themselves to it.
And they didn’t simply devote themselves to it for the sake of memorization or information accumulation or to get a passing grade on an exam. No, as Alan read in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Paul prayed that Christians would …
… be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:9-10)
His hope for Christians then and for you and I now, is that our we would grow and be filled in knowledge and wisdom and understanding, in order that we may lead lives worthy of the Lord. So that our growth in knowledge and understanding, wouldn’t just be about information, but also transformation. That the truths that we talk about on Sundays would impact and help you think about how you live your everyday. That the truths about who God is and what he has done would inform the way we spend our days, the words we use, the choices we make, our home life, our work life, that it would impact all of life.
Friends, this is an area where I want to continue to grow as a pastor and preacher. While I always want to give messages that help you grow in your knowledge of God, I also want to make sure that the messages I give help you think through what it looks like to “lead lives worthy of God, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work.” I want to do my best to make sure that the messages I give not only help you learn, but also help you follow Jesus in the everyday stuff of life.
But yet, with that said, sermons, and Sunday worship as a whole, aren’t the only means by which we can or should grow in our faith. One of my deep convictions is that the Sunday Sermon isn’t enough – that it cannot, nor should not, bear the full weight of how you grow as a Christian. For example, imagine if you started dating someone, but there was a rule that you could only be with them one hour a week – it would take you a very long time to really get to know them and there would be a very definite ceiling on how far that relationship could go. As followers of Jesus, we need more to sustain us and help us grow, whether that’s through bible reading or prayer that we integrate into our, or our family’s lives on a regular basis.
So toward that end, one of my commitments and promises to you all is I want to make sure that we as a church regularly have some kind of bible study or small group available that you can be a part of. And the value of these small group settings is that they provide a space for more interaction and discussion, which is essential for learning and growing. And that’s one of the limitations of a sermon – it can feel like a one sided conversation. Now if we were Baptist or Pentecostal, we’d have a few more “Amen’s” or “C’mon on now”, but yet I suspect that that kind of hooping and hollering wouldn’t be true to our personality, although for the record, I’d gladly welcome it.
So, all that said, we’ll regularly have some kind of bible study or small group going on, because that kind of interactive learning environment is essential for our spiritual growth. So for example, right now, we’re doing a Wednesday night study, where we’re learning about how the bible, a collection of books written by different authors, at different times, in different genres can come together to create one unified story that leads to Jesus. It’s a safe space to ask questions, learn and grow, be in community and a rare and sacred opportunity for young parents to have adult conversations. We’ve got a couple weeks left in that series, and we’d love to have any and all join us anytime.
That’s the first ingredient we need in order to grow. Teaching/learning.
Here’s the second:
It says in the passage from Acts, that they not only, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, but also fellowship.
Now, if we were to play a game of word association, when I say “fellowship” my sense is that the next word that comes to your mind is “food.” Right?
I once heard a pastor jokingly say that for many churches, fellowship is “wherever two or more cookies are gathered together.”
And all kidding aside, that understanding of fellowship isn’t necessarily wrong. After all, in Acts, we see that one of the regular rhythms within the early Christian community wasn’t just that they spent much time together in the temple, but that they also, “broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts. So by all means, let’s eat together for the glory of God.
But friends, never forget, whether you have a cookie or a brownie, sandwich or pastry, coffee or tea or an adult beverage of your choice, the irreducible ingredient in fellowship isn’t the food or drink but rather the people and the conversation.
Fellowship is wherever there are two or more followers of Jesus gathered together. And in order to grow, we not only need to be learning and growing in our love and knowledge of Jesus, but also growing closer to one another. We need to be sharing life together, getting together outside of Sundays, sharing meals together, watching kids sports games together, celebrating key life events with one another, encouraging one another, challenging one another, it’s by sharing life together that we grow. And I know so many of you in our church already naturally do this, which is awesome, but let me just encourage you to do so all the more.
So here’s my encouragement to you all. I would love to invite someone from our church that you don’t know well or that you’d like to get to know more, and ask them to get together, whether it’s for coffee, a walk, etc.
And here’s my challenge – get beyond the three comfortable talking points that we’re all too familiar with – get beyond news, weather and sports. After all, the news is incredibly depressing and frankly, the weather kind of is too.
So get beyond the casual and get to the meaningful stuff, the good stuff. Ask them about their work, or life at home, or their faith. Ask them about what they’re excited about these days and what’s feeling hard. And finally, ask how you can pray for them. Friends, when we experience that kind of fellowship, when we’re rubbing shoulders with one another, when we’re encouraging and challenging one another, that’s how we grow.
Friends, meeting with you, whether it’s in your home or at Sweetwater for coffee or over at the brewery, is one of the highlights of my job and something I want to do all the more. A couple weeks ago, I got to ride in a combine with David Schuett, which as a city boy, was the highlight of my month. But I will tell you, it’s kind of funny sometimes the reactions that I’ll occasionally get when I ask to get together. Sometimes people will say, “Is everything okay?” As if I have something top secret to share them or some really deep confessional that I need to get off my chest. "Yes, everything’s okay. I just want to get to know you better.” Or I’ll hear people tell me that when I called they thought, “I wonder what he needs from me … I wonder what he wants me to do.” Nothing. I just want to hang out with you. I’m not going to ask for anything. Actually, I take that back, I may ask to borrow a leaf blower, but that’s it, I promise.
You all, in order for us to grow as followers of Jesus, we have to, just like the early Christians, prioritize fellowship, as we share life together and grow closer to one another.
And as we share life together, and as our relationships deepen, and as trust is developed, it will provide us with all sorts of opportunities to help each other grow as we figure out what it looks like to follow Jesus in the everyday stuff of life.
I once heard a story about a family who had a college student living with them. And one afternoon the husband and wife were in the kitchen with the college student and the husband and wife got into a heated disagreement. The college student was standing there thinking to himself, “Alright, this is my cue. Exit stage right.” But the husband saw him walking away, and said, “Wait, I want you to stay and see what it looks like for a married couple to wrestle through conflict together and for you also to listen and learn and then help us grow in this area.”
Friends, that’s how the body of Christ grows together. It’s us vulnerably opening up our lives. And I realize that’s kind of an intense example. After all, it’s hard to imagine asking you all to be spectators if Callie and I were to have a heated exchange of our own. But yet, for us to really grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, it’s important that we not only see each other in our Sunday best, but also at our Wednesday worst. And so, while gathering together on Sundays is so important, as we talked about last week, we also need to see each other during the week and help each grow and guide one another as to what it looks like to follow Jesus in the everyday stuff of life, whether it’s talking to and disciplining your kids when they’re not listening or how to respond to your boss when they have unrealistic expectations of you.
Finally, when it comes to fellowship, I want to encourage you to do one more thing. There are encouragement cards in the pews in front of you. Simple white, index card sized, there in the pews each and every Sunday. I want to encourage you to take one, and use it to encourage someone. It can be short and sweet. Encourage them in some way. Tell them how they’ve been an encouragement to you. Tell them ways you’ve seen them grow in the past year. Tell them why you thank God for them. Just encourage them. And feel free to put them in the offering plate or put on Adele’s desk and we’ll make sure they get mailed to the right place. Friends, let’s do so much encouraging that we as a church have to go buy more stamps. After all, whether you’re 8 or 80, who doesn’t love getting a card in the mail?
I encourage you to encourage one another.
So there you go, while I’m sure there are a bunch of things that help a Christian grow, there you have at least two, two that I think every church member and every Christian, has to have: teaching and fellowship.
And I’ll finish with this …
I think it’s only fitting that we had a baptism this morning. As we talked about earlier, there are all these beautiful, glorious promises that God makes to us in baptism. But there are also promises that we make as well. Promises that parents make, and promises that we make as church family -
Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture, by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging him to know and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of this church? We do.
In short, it’s a fancy way of saying, do you promise to help him grow, to help him grow into all that God has for him?
And I heard you loud and clear. You said, heartily, “We do!”
Friends, that’s the promise that we make to each and every little one who is baptized in our midst and to each and every church member. We promise to help him or her grow in relationship with one another and in their love and knowledge of Jesus Christ.