Being A Renaissance Church
Attending church is easier today than ever. It used to be that people sat on hard, wooden benches in blazing hot buildings. They cooled themselves and kept the flies at bay by waving hand-held fans. Services would last for hours and preachers would sweat till they were dripping and shout till their voices were worn out.
Now we have comfortable seats and air-conditioned buildings. Services last one hour and many churches offer several options so that you can find the one that best accommodates your schedule. We have state of the art sound systems so that no one has to shout and we even have visual aids to augment the message. And polls show that folks who attend a worship service regularly are generally in a better mood and happier than those who don’t.
You'd think with all of the accommodations and comforts and happy feelings, church attendance would be through the roof; but it isn't. According to the latest polls, while the numbers of folks who claim to believe in God are about the same as they have been over the past 40 years, the amount of folks who give up some of their time to be involved in the life of a church continues to drop.
But there was a time, long ago, when people couldn't get enough of God and longed to worship. There was a time when the church building was the center piece of peoples lives. And whole communities were built around the building where real community could be found. The church sparked a cultural, spiritual, ethical, and moral renaissance.
Our text this morning is going to come from Acts chapters 1 and 2, and I want us to see what is in store for a church family that is willing to give themselves completely to God. I continue to believe that Park Central has not seen her best days and that we can make as dramatic an impact on our community as the first church made on Jerusalem. But to do that, we've got to recover three essential qualities.
First we need to see that the Acts Church was built on obedience to God.
Look in Acts 1:4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me;
The disciples are having a conversation with the risen Christ, and he gave them only one command. Do not leave Jerusalem, just wait. We see in Acts 2:1-4 that they waited for 50 days. Pentecost was 50 after the ascension and they were still in Jerusalem obeying Jesus' command to wait. It was that obedience that created the atmosphere conducive to the power of God.
God did a powerful thing among that small group of believers. When His power finally came there was no way to deny it. God not only blessed them with the ability to communicate His message to all people regardless of the language they spoke; He even gave them the message. Their obedience to God opened them to His power that allowed them to accomplish something far beyond their own abilities.
God desires us to obey Him, because of His great love for us and because He knows and wants what is best for us. In some circumstances that may be difficult to grasp, and so we choose not to obey. We all have areas of our lives where we demand to stay in control rather than following God’s lead. We all have areas where we believe that we know better or are more important than what God wants.
There is a preachers story about a governor who was running for a second term when he arrived at a church bar-b-q. As he went through the line a very nice lady put a piece of chicken on his plate. The governor said, "Ma'am, would you mind if I had two pieces of chicken?"
She said, "Sorry, but I was told to give only one piece of chicken per person."
The governor said, "But I'm starving."
She said, "Sorry, one per person."
A little frustrated, he said, "Do you know who I am? I'm the governor of this state!"
She said, "Well do you know who I am? I'm the chicken lady. Move on."
I can't tell you obedience is easy. I can't tell you it is fun. But I can tell you that if you want to see the power of God unleashed in this church, if you want to see a renaissance in our community, obedience is necessary. God's power is so explosive, so dynamic that before He turns it loose, He has to know He can trust us with it.
The second thing we see in the Acts Church is that they were persistent in prayer.
In Acts 1:14, Luke tells us that the early church was not just sitting on a pew waiting for something great to happen. While they were living in obedience they were busy doing something. The text says that "They all joined together constantly in prayer."
Samuel Rowe was one of the first missionaries to Africa. He wrote in his journal about the persistence that many of the first converts had in their private devotions. Each one reportedly had a separate spot in the thicket where they would pour out their heart to God. Over time the paths to these places became well worn. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer, it was soon apparent to everyone else. The other Christians would approach the forgetful one and kindly remind them by saying, "Brother, the grass grows on your path."
In the Golden Triangle it’s not as easy to see if someone is neglecting their prayer life. But we know the grass didn't grow on the prayer paths of the earliest Christians. Luke says they prayed constantly and they received God’s power. We need to understand that human reasoning and talent can only do so much. When we rely on an organization, we get what that organization can deliver. When we rely on education, we get what education can deliver. When we rely on eloquence, we get what eloquence can deliver. But it’s only when we rely on prayer, that we will get what God can deliver.
We cannot make an impact on our community until we first feel the impact of God's power in our own lives. Obedience and prayer create an atmosphere open to the power of God. Prayer is how God pours out His power and blessings to us. Many people look at prayer and say that answered prayer is simply coincidences, but I have noticed when I pray that coincidences happen. God answers prayer, and prayer transforms our lives.
The truth is God values time together with us in prayer. Revelation 5:8 says that our prayers are so precious that God keeps them in golden bowls. God longs to hear from us, He wants us to communicate with Him.
No relationship can be built or nurtured without open and honest communication. No relationship with God can grow without constant communication with Him. God is never too busy, it is never inconvenient for us to come, He just wants to hear from His children.
The church, and you individually, need to understand that prayer will change your character and your life. The more I communicate with Trista the better I know her and the better she knows me. You get to the point in some relationships that you can know how a person thinks or feels or what they want to say before they ever say it. There have even been times when I got in trouble without even saying a word. You may be able to start finishing each other’s sentences. You begin to even become alike many times in your views, in your attitude, and in your character. In a relationship many times you pick up some of the same sayings or mannerisms. You become one as your relationship develops. The same is true of God. The more we communicate with Him the more we will be like Him.
Could you imagine if we became a church that really prayed? I know we have our prayer lists and we pray a few times during the corporate worship services, but I mean could you really imagine if Park Central really prayed? I have thought and thought about what made the church in the New Testament so distinct from the church today. What made that church impact the world so greatly as compared to our seemingly minimal impact in the world?
We basically have the same doctrine. We have the same message and the same Word. We have the same Spirit indwelling us. We have the same God we serve. It’s not the character or make up of the society we live in, after all Paul went into some pretty wicked places. I think it has to do with prayer, and it’s time that we restored the idea of prayer.
In Acts 12 we read an account of when Peter was in prison awaiting trial and probable execution. Meanwhile, the church had gathered together a special prayer meeting and was praying on his behalf. Their prayers were heard and Peter was released from prison. The focus of that story is not on God’s ability to release Peter or on Peter’s faith, but was on the fact that the church was praying on Peter’s behalf.
Just imagine what we could do if we would simply pray for each other the way that the early church did? I don’t mean just calling out names on a prayer list, but I mean diligently praying for one another when we have issues arise. We notice several things about these events in Acts 12.
First of all, the church gathered together to pray. My assumption is that this was the regular practice for them because Peter knew exactly where to find them. We need to have more prayer services where we do nothing but spend time in prayer. Prayer for each other, prayer for the lost community, prayer for our shepherds, prayer for the sick, and prayer for the church as a whole. Prayer is not just asking God for things or praying for the sick. Prayer is communication. You can go to God with your struggles, with your doubts, with your frustrations, joys, burdens, and anxieties.
Secondly, we see as the church devoted itself to prayer the church grew and reached the lost. We need to be a church that is made up of people that pray. You do not have to be able to stand in front of people and publicly pray in order to communicate with God. Perhaps it has been a while since God has heard from you. I promise you this, if we would pray, lives in this community would be transformed, God would bless us and use us. Prayer will change the church and make her what she was created to be.
The third quality we see in the Acts church is that They created an atmosphere built on Christ.
The early church always talked about and preached about Jesus. One of the reasons so many people in our culture are turned off to Christianity is that we've stopped talking about Christ. We talk about morals or ethics or rules; we talk about repentance or confession; we talk about heaven, hell and how wrong people are. But we never get around to telling them how right Jesus was. We forget that the Bible calls them to follow Christ.
Jesus was the main point of Peters first sermon in Acts 2. Paul exclusively and incessantly preached about Christ. He claims in 1 Corinthians 2:2 "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,".
Jesus cannot be part of the message. Jesus is the message, He is the reason that we exist, the reason we were baptized, the reason we can repent, the reason we have morals, the reason we get the promise of heaven. If we make Jesus secondary, then we lose our power.
We will undergo a renaissance when we get back to Christ because, something happens to us.
We lose our arrogance. The whole point of Jesus is our inability to live up to God's standard. Unless you can live perfectly in the will of God as Jesus did, you don't meet God's standard. Other than Jesus, there isn't a person living or dead who lives completely within the will of God. In all reality we can't even be consistent.
Think about it this way. In the world, consistency will win you trophies. Ty Cobb played baseball for 24 years. In 3,035 games he had 11,434 at bats. His batting average was .366. Nearly 40% of the time, he got a hit. He's in the hall of fame.
James "Cool Papa" Bell, played for 30 years in the African American league. He was so fast that Satchel Paige said he could turn off the light and be in bed before the room got dark. For several seasons, James Bell was a .400 hitter. He's in the hall of fame.
Both of these men were great athletes, and their consistency secured their place in the baseball hall of fame. Consistency will win you trophies everywhere ... except in heaven.
God doesn't want consistency. His holiness demands perfection. You've got to get a hit every time you step up to the plate. I don't know about you, but I've got some strike outs on my record. Actually, I do know about you. You've got some too. So none of us are going to get into the eternal hall of fame because of our performance. The only way we're going to get there is by relying on Jesus. And if I have to rely on someone else to get me in, I've got no room for arrogance. When we focus on Jesus, we become humble.
The second thing that happens when we get back to Jesus is that people become interested.
There has never been a more compelling, attractive, nor beautiful person than Jesus of Nazareth. No one more full of mercy. No one more driven to love. No one more honest, truthful or gentle. Our community doesn't need rules. It needs Jesus. And if we learn to live and love like Jesus then our community, and Park Central will be blessed beyond our wildest imaginations.
I am sure that you have heard the story of the mother who was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. "If Jesus were sitting here, He would say 'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.' Kevin the 5 year old turned to his younger brother and said, "Okay Ryan, you be Jesus!"
Church that’s what we need to do today. We need to be Jesus.
Questions To Consider
God desires us to obey Him out of His love for us, because He wants what is best for us. In some circumstances that may be difficult to grasp, and so we choose not to obey. We all have areas of our lives where we desire to stay in control rather than following God’s lead. So, what Biblical command is difficult for you because either you don’t grasp God’s reasons for it or because you don’t agree that it is best?
Have you ever chosen to compromise God’s standards in order to please someone else or to obey someone in authority? Would you be willing to share how that worked out?
When you need time alone, where do you go and what do you do?
We read in Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God”. What does that look like?
How would that help us create and atmosphere of openness?
In Romans 12:1 Paul says, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice--the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask?” What does Paul mean by to offering yourself as “a living sacrifice”?
How does being a living sacrifice open you up to authentic worship?
Considering Jesus’ prayers this night before His crucifixion, how would you say that faith relates to obedience?