BELIEVE: TEN KEY PRACTICES
by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
Februay 19, 2017
TEXT: Acts 2:42-47
One of my favorite things to do in ministry is to baptize someone! It is such an incredible thrill to see that new life of faith - to see the Holy Spirit alive and at work in someone! And it is so important to have the baptism together in worship as a church family. We now have a new brother in Christ - one we will link arms with to worship God and grow in faith and serve the Lord.
As I was anticipating having Tim's baptism this week - I heard an incredible story about a newly baptized Christian on WDLM last week. The story was told by Todd Nettleton, from Voice of the Martyrs - an organization that reaches out to help persecuted Christians.1
Todd Nettleton told the story about a woman who lives somewhere in the Middle East. They purposely left out the name of the country and name of this woman for her safety and protection. This woman was a solid Muslim who, out of some heartbreak in her life, came to faith in Jesus Christ. She had to leave her country in order to be baptized as it wasn't safe to do it where she lived. When she came back to her country, as a baptized believer, her family noticed something was different about her. What a testimony to how Christ works in our lives!
She shared with them, how she was now a believer in Christ. Her family was not at all happy about this. In fact, her brothers, who in their culture have an obligation to look out for her, said, "Listen, if you don't come back to Islam, we are going to take care of you. We have the right to kill you, if you don't return to Islam." She said, "No I am not going to do that."
She is now on the run. She actually had to flee her country and is now living in another country in the Middle East. The good news is that she is now plugged into a great church. She has been welcomed - they are discipling her and she is growing in her faith.
She has lost contact with her family. She actually had to throw away her cell phone because her family was texting threats and all sorts of mean, nasty things to her. So, she threw away her cell phone and lost contact - but she knows they are still looking for her. So, she lives a kind of quiet life. She doesn't have status in the country where she is living - she can't work and earn a living. It is a difficult life.
But, thankfully this woman is involved in a very good church that is reaching out to her. So often, people who come to faith in Christ in the Middle East are so isolated. It is hard to meet together with other believers. But she is plugged into a church and is continuing to follow Christ. And because of Christ - she is our sister in Christ. We share a bond of love through Christ and care for her and pray for her. That is true Biblical Community!
How important it is for us as Christians to have a community of believers - the church - to walk with us on our faith journey - to give us support and encouragement - and help us grow in faith. We really can't go it alone! We were made for community. We need each other!
As we continue our sermon series on Believe - we look at those 10 Key Actions that are vital for our faith. The first 5 we have been learning about all had to do with key actions that deepen our relationship with God. The next five have to do with deepening our relationship with one another. We always have to look at the vertical and the horizontal part of faith - loving God and loving neighbor. Because we believe that the church is the primary way to accomplish His purposes on earth - we act on that belief by being in fellowship with Christians to accomplish God's purposes in my life, in the lives of others and in the world.
There is no better way to find out what the purpose and marks of the Biblical community are, than to look at the early church. Get your Bibles out and look up Acts, chapter 2. We will be reading verses 42-47. I heard a pastor this week say that these verses about the church are something that should be preached on every year - just so we can be reminded again and again what the church was created to be.
Just right before this text, at the beginning of chapter 2, we read about the 120 believers who gathered together in one place when the Holy Spirit came upon them - and the church was born. After Peter preached the first sermon of the church - 3,000 people came forward to be baptized! Talk about church growth! Verses 42-47 describe what this first church was like. Follow along with me as I read from the New Living Translation:
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord's Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity]-47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
What an incredible picture of the church! This has been described as the golden age of the church - a time before sin entered in and caused church members to be selfish at times like Ananias and Sapphira, who kept by some of their material gifts so as not to share with others. It was before the church became complacent and people started missing meeting together in worship. (Hebrews 10:25) This description of the church gives us a model of what the church should look like. If all the believers were united in seeking God's purposes and will for their lives. It serves as a model for our Biblical Community of Faith.
The first thing that stands out about the early church was that it was a Faithful and Devoted Church. Look at Acts 2:42. It says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." Literally, the church was committed fully to learning and growing in their faith and to worship and prayer. Worship and prayer with other believers was not just one option among many - or something they did just when it was convenient. No, they were Christ-centered and God held top priority in their lives.
Not only were they devoted to God - to worship and learning and growing in faith - they were also devoted to one another and loved to be in fellowship with one another. They spent time together, not just in worship and prayer in the Temple - but also in their homes. They were devoted to being together! There was no such a thing as a solitary Christian - a Christian who went it alone. They knew that they needed time with their Lord and with each other. They wanted to be together and were united in the bond of love through Christ.
In his book, Why Christians Sin, J. Kirk Johnston tells about a young Russian woman who, before the collapse of the Iron Curtain, was allowed to visit her relatives in Canada. She was a devout Christian, and her friends assumed that she would defect and seek asylum in Canada or the US because of the religious oppression in the USSR. But they were wrong. She wanted to go back to her homeland.
This Russian woman said that people in the West were too busy acquiring material things and not concerned enough about their relationships. In her homeland, Christian fellowship was essential to their faith because it provided the support and encouragement they so desperately needed.2
The early church grew because they had that kind of fellowship. As Bob Russell says in his book When God Builds a Church: "The (early) church exploded in growth because the people loved being together. When you get a group of people together who genuinely believe something & who really enjoy each other, it's such a contagious atmosphere that you can't keep people away from it."3
That contagious atmosphere was full of great care and encouragement for one another - lifting each other up in good times and bad. Paul described the church, the body of Christ in I Corinthians 12:26 this way: "If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it." We are to be an encouraging and supportive church family.
Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a young woman named Linda who was traveling alone on the rugged highway from Alberta, Canada to the Yukon. Linda didn't know you don't travel to Whitehorse alone in a rundown Honda Civic, so she set off where only four-wheel drivers normally venture. The first evening she found a room in the mountains near a summit and asked for a 5am wakeup call so she could get an early start. She couldn't understand why the clerk looked surprised at that request, but when she woke up, she understood. As she looked out the window she saw that a morning fog shrouded the mountain-tops. Not wanting to look foolish, she got up anyway and went to breakfast. Two truckers invited Linda to join them, and since the place was so small, she felt obliged. "Where are you headed?", one of the truckers asked. "Whitehorse" was her reply. "In that little Civic? No way! This pass is DANGEROUS in weather like this." "Well, I'm determined to try" was Linda's gutsy, if not very uninformed response.
"Then I guess we're just going to have to hug you," the trucker suggested. Linda drew back. "There's no way I'm going to let you touch me!"
"Not like THAT!" the truckers chuckled. "We'll put one truck in front of you and one in the rear. In that way, we'll get you through the mountains."
All that foggy morning, Linda followed the two red dots in front of her and had the reassurance of a big escort behind as they made their way safely through the mountains.4
That is what the church is really supposed to be. All of us are caught in the fog of a dangerous passage through life. We face many obstacles along the way and many times we just don't know if we can make it through. And thankfully, God does not leave us alone to make it through. We can depend on God's guidance AND we can depend on our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can truly be "hugged" by our fellow Christians who know the way and can safely lead ahead of us - and with others behind us, gently encouraging us along.
We need that encouragement - and we need the support of our brothers and sisters when we go through the challenges of life. We can easily get distracted by the temptations of Satan - and our own sin that leads us astray. We need our godly brothers and sisters who will watch our back, holding us accountable and keeping us on track with our faith journey. Galatians 6:1-2 says: "Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each other's burdens, and in this way, obey the law of Christ."
The early church was known as a church that was faithful and devoted and as a group of people who loved to be together in fellowship. They were encouraging to one another and held each other accountable. And they were contagious in their love and generosity.
Acts 4:32-35 describes the early church this way: 32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God's great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. In a very short period of time the early church was able to turn the city of Jerusalem upside down, and they grew by the thousands. This didn't happen because they were always bickering with one another. It didn't happen because they were divided up in cliques and argued about which group was better. It happened because they were of one heart and mind - and people noticed.
When we live in unity with others, the world pays attention. An early Christian writer named Tertullian once quoted a pagan official as having said this about the Christians: "Look at how much they love each other!" This is exactly what should be said about us, because Jesus himself said "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples". (John 13:35)
There is power in unity. When we build on a foundation of common ground with others we are able to increase the impact that we have on the world around us. When we link arms with each other in service - reaching out beyond our doors - we will make a difference!
The huge redwood trees of California are truly amazing - and really are a great symbol for the church. They are the tallest trees in the world. Some of them are over 300 feet high - (that's as high as a 40-story building!) and there are some that are over 2,500 years old. One would think that trees so large must have a tremendous root system that reaches down hundreds of feet into the earth. But not so! Redwoods has a very shallow root system. The roots, however, are intertwined with all the other trees nearby. They are tied in with each other - interlocked. Thus, when the storms come, the winds blow, and the lightning flashes, the redwoods still stand. They are locked to each other. They are not alone, for all the trees support and protect each other. Each tree is important to all the other trees in the grove.
The other interesting fact about these giant Redwoods is that the tree has no known killing diseases and insects that causes significant damage. They literally stand firm against any attack.5
Like the redwoods, we need a root system anchored by our faith and supported by a community of other believers. The church really is our God-given support system. Just like those trees are locked to each other, supported and protecting each other - we too can survive those storms in life - as we "hang on" to one another in our community of faith.
Thanks be to God that we have the church and we don't have to stand alone! Thanks be to God for the fellowship we know in our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The early church had it - they had biblical community - they had connectedness. They had a power and vitality that turned the world upside down. They were so aware of the wonder-working power of the Holy Spirit and they grew and flourished.
I truly believe that God wants to do the same in our church. He wants us to become connected - and powerful through the working of the Holy Spirit working through us. Won't you accept the challenge today to be that kind of church? And if you have not accepted Jesus as your Savior, we invite you to do so today - and then become involved in the life of the church and receive that kind of community of love and support. Won't you come today and make your decision for Christ? Today is the day to make that decision! Come forward right now and we will rejoice with you in your decision for the Lord.
1Todd Nettleton. Voice of the Martyrs. Story told on broadcast of the Morning Show on WDLM, February 15, 2017.
2J. Kirk Johnston, Why Christians Sin, pamphlet as quoted on Precept-Austin, commentary on Acts 2:42-47.
3Bob Russell, When God Builds a Church, Howard Publishing, 2000,
4Story from Chuck Swindoll in Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life.
5I got the information about the redwood trees from several different sites, but one devotional that helped me was written by Joe Stowell, entitled Rooted in Love, http://odb.org/2014/11/18/rooted-love/.