Together Week Five: "Serving Together"

This week I am concluding the sermon series "Together," which has been focused on the core values of my church: Worship, Pray, Grow, Love & Serve.

As I shared in the first sermon of this series, the reason why I've been preaching on this is twofold:  1) the last time I preached on our core values was two years ago and we've added over 150 members since then.  2) If you don't pay attention to your core values, they cease to be... core values.

For the final installation of this series we'll be focusing on the last of our core values---what we call "The Five Things:" Serve.

We've been asking seriously difficult questions of each of our core values over the past few weeks, and these questions have led us to some challenging places. This week the question that we are going to be asking of our final core value is simply this:  Are we building bridges of love that will hold up the truth?

Read this passage of Scripture from the New Testament book of Acts chapter 4:
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.
So, here's a question for you.  Which part of this passage do you think that church-y people like the most? (hint: verse 47)

I'll break it down for you.  First: "...enjoying the favor of all the people." which is a fancy way of saying that "everybody liked them."   Second: "And the Lord added to their number daily..."

It doesn't matter what your theological bent happens to be, there isn't a single person in their right mind who doesn't want people to like them at least a little bit.  And for church-y people, we really want people to like us so that they will come to our church and help our church to grow.  Because after all, growth is a sign of the anointing and favor of God, am I right?

Well, in some cases it might be.  I will give you that.  And growth is a sign of organizational health, there's that.  Okay, let's just admit it.  If your church isn't growing at least a little, it's probably going to not be a church one day.

But the point is that growth seems to be the point in a lot of churches, which it isn't, and it wasn't even the point in this passage from the book of Acts, even though that's the part that everyone seems to focus on:  Everyone liked the post-Pentecost Christians, and their group grew to megachurch status overnight.

So, what about all of that other stuff in the passage---the worshipping, praying, sharing, fellowshipping... that stuff?

And how does this passage help us learn anything at all about what it means to serve as a community of faith?

All good questions that deserve answers and hopefully will receive them in a moment.  But first, I need to ask our big question once again.  When it comes to our service as a community faith, are we building bridges of love that will hold up the truth?  In other words, are we more concerned about doing good deeds, and less concerned about why we are doing them?

Here's a thought.  I don't think that for the early church it was really as simple as doing good deeds and holding awesome worship services.  There was something else going on that drove them to be so winsome, to put themselves out there, so to speak, and attract so many people.

We find that the kind of church that was being formed in Acts chapter two was a church that was

Loving and

At this point you are starting to say, "Hey, those look familiar!"  And you would be right, my friend.  These are indeed The Five Things.  In fact, this is exactly where we got The Five Things.  We didn't dream them up in a smoke filled room where a group of church leaders were locked away until they came out with something awesome.  We didn't pluck them out of the ether because we needed something to put on our publications, and to make it look like we were working.

The Five Things are grounded right here in the early church's foundational ethos.

"But what about the last one?" you might be asking.  True.  Our final core value is most definitely "Serve," and I did indicate that the final core value for the early church was Evangelism.

Which is not a problem. Because in the minds of those early Christians they were one and the same.  You shared your faith by both word and deed.  There would have been no hesitation in explaining that the reason you sold some of your possessions to give to the poor was because you had been absolutely transformed by Jesus.

You see, What was being done was not nearly as important as in whom name it was being done.  

I want to run down some passages in the book of Acts to demonstrate this:

In Acts chapter 2 Peter is preaching a sermon to the crowd that is gathered at Pentecost.  He outlines the entire story of God's plan for saving the world, which began all the way back in the Old Testament with the beginning of all things, and ended with Jesus rising from the dead.  At the end of his sermon Peter proclaims, "Repent and be baptized IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST." 3,000 people walked down that aisle for the invitation.

In Acts chapter 3 Peter and John heal a man who has never been able to walk, and who sits outside the temple begging.  Peter says to him. "Silver and gold, I do not have, but what I do have I give to you.  IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH---walk!"

In that same chapter Peter is preaching to the Sanhedrin, the very group of religious leaders that executed Jesus, and he declares to them that their salvation cannot come to them through their tradition, their birth, their heritage or anything they could do on their own.  "It is JESUS NAME and the faith that comes through him," that can save.

In Acts chapter 4 Peter and John find themselves in front of the Sanhedrin once again and Peter completely throws down when he says, "It is by THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH whom you crucified that this man (the guy they healed earlier) is healed...."  The flustered religious leaders don't know what to do with them because so many people are looking upon them favorably so they tell them to "stop teaching IN THE NAME OF JESUS." which Peter and John refuse to do.  We could not possibly stop speaking about what we have seen and heard," they tell them.  The Sanhedrin has them flogged and sent on their way.  Flogging was not something that was just a slap on the wrist.  It was brutal, and we need to be reminded of this as we see what happens next.

In Acts chapter 5 they pray for boldness to preach and to teach in the midst of the fear that they have for their very lives.  They could have prayed for protection or any number of things---a job transfer perhaps---but they didn't.  They prayed to God, "Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miracles THROUGH THE NAME OF JESUS."

Then the apostles get all giddy with excitement over what is happening.  The text says that "The apostles left rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to suffer FOR THE NAME."

I love the fact that by the time we get to Acts 5 it's no longer IN THE NAME OF JESUS it's just THE NAME.  Can I get a witness on how cool that is?  Early Christians weren't really called Christians, they were called Followers of the Way, which was short for "The Way of Christ."  And they got to a point where they didn't even have to say to one another, "Let's do this in the name of Jesus," they just said, "Let's do this in THE NAME."

This wasn't just a hobby for these people.  It wasn't just something that they did one day a week.  They lived and breathed this.  It was their identity, their reason for being.

So why was this so important for the apostles?  What made them so bold about declaring the name of Jesus as they did their thing---as they worshipped, prayed, grew, loved and served together?

It's because they remembered Jesus saying this:
"If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of his Father and his holy angels."  - Luke 9:26
Incidentally, the same guy who wrote the Gospel According to Luke, also wrote The Acts of the Apostles.  And he spent a lot of time around some of the first followers of Jesus, and he would have heard their stories about how they ran away and left Jesus when he was arrested and executed.  And he undoubtedly heard them say that if they were ever given the opportunity to live more boldly and declare their passionate loyalty to Jesus even if it meant their very lives, they would do it.

And they did.

Because what was being done---all of the good deeds, the sharing, the caring for the poor  and the needy---was far less important than in whose name it was being done.

The bridges of love that they were building were being built to hold up the truth, and the truth was that Jesus was not only risen, he was Lord and Savior.

Are we building bridges of love that hold up the truth?  Or are we more concerned about whether people like us or not?  Based on what I see in most churches across America, I would have to say the latter.  We worry far more about offending someone than we do about offending the One who we supposedly call Lord.

What can it look like when Christians get this right, like the early church did?

It begins by being outward focused, that much is evident.  It continues by being focused on the things that matter---the core values, if you will---the things that give us life and hope, and drive us toward our true calling, which is:

To declare that the name of Jesus is a name above every other name...
To proclaim that the name of Jesus brings salvation and healing...
To embody that the name of Jesus is capable of unbelievable transformation...

and to do so with boldness, unashamed of the One who gave everything to become salvation for us all.
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