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January 25 - Acts 2:29-47 - "Rechurch09 - Our MPC Theme"
MPC 25th January 2009.
I guess you've noticed the fact that the westernized world is fast becoming de-churched. In the US, in the UK, and right here at home, people are detaching from church in their thousands. And their hundreds of thousands.
The statistics are scary. Church attendance down on average about two percent every year. Nearly 10 percent every five years. But even that's not telling the story of the change of attitudes. And you can see it all around.
Once, Christianity was at the heart of our culture. Once, church was at the heart of community. Now step by step, as a community and a culture we've been de-churched.
And so when Barack Obama invited Pastor Rick Warren to pray the inauguration prayer on Wednesday, there was an outcry. Number one, an outcry because Pastor Rick Warren was on the record as someone who was against gay marriage. Number 2, an outcry because people were saying you shouldn't choose someone who'll pray in Jesus name. If you're going to pray your wishful thinking prayers, at least they've got to be generic. So as not to offend anyone else in the multi-faith community. And so the pressure was on for Rick Warren to leave Jesus out of it. Pressure which he ignored. America has become de-churched.
At the same time popular BBC Radio presenter Jeremy Vine has come out and said what everybody knows about the UK. Jeremy Vine is a Christian. But he said very bluntly last week that it is now socially unacceptable in the UK to say you're a believer. And certainly not on air. He says this:
You simply can't express views that were common currency 30 or 40 years ago. The parameters of what you might call "right thinking" are probably closing. Sadly, along with that has come the fact that it's almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God.
See, the reality is that the world is gradually becoming de-churched. And Australia is becoming de-churched. But today as we launch our theme for 2009, I don't want to talk about the rest of the world. I don't even want to talk about the rest of Australia. I want to talk about you.
And I want to ask the question, is it possible that in the midst of a world with so many pressures, with such subtle and not so subtle opposition, with so many other things on offer and so many other things to do... that you are gradually being de-churched as well?
Each year just a little bit more de-motivated about church. A little more de-tached? Maybe as time's gone by as a family you've just gradually de-emphasised the place your church has in your life and replaced it with other stuff. Which is just a symptom of a deeper issue. The place Jesus has in your life.
If that's you - even just a little bit - I want to challenge you to re-church. I want to ask you this year to re-connect with your church family. I want to ask you to re-consider God's word. I want to ask you to re-commit your life to Jesus. Because that's at the heart of it. And I want to ask you to really get into serving. Because that's what followers of Jesus do.
Before we talk about re-church though, I want to start by building a simple definition of what church actually is. The new testament uses all kinds of images of church, like a body, like a family, like the bride of Christ. But for simplicity, we're going right back to the very first meeting of the very first church in Acts chapter 2. We're going to go back to the beginning. And see if we can build up some kind of a simple definition of what church was all about. Because if we're going to re-church... maybe that's where we need to begin.
The first thing I want you to notice, and it may be so obvious that it seems trivial, is that the church is followers of Jesus gathered. And yet in practice it's not so trivial at all.
Do you notice in verse 42 when this first church takes shape, we're told there are a number of things they're devoted to. And one of them is being together. They were devoted to the fellowship. Breaking bread together. Sharing meals together. Praying together. It's the second half of verse 42. They were devoted to "the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."
There's more detail in verse 44. Because somehow their bonds are so strong, somehow what's brought them together as a church has connected them so firmly, that they really are living like a family with everything in common. They even shared their toothpaste. "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. And every day," verse 46, "every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts."
The church... is followers of Jesus gathered. In all kinds of ways. Expressing the bond they have together by being together in all kinds of ways like sharing together, eating together, praying together. The church is followers of Jesus gathered. They loved to connect.
Look, the fact is gathering is what the word church actually means. So if you're not in the habit of gathering, if you call yourself a Christian and you're not in the habit of getting together with other Christians... then you're missing the point. Make this the year you make every effort to reconnect.
But can I quickly add that church was never about getting together just for the sake of it. Church is not just a convenient social club. The church, and we'll move down to the next phrase on the outline, the church is followers of Jesus gathered by and around God's word.
And I want you to see what I mean here in Acts chapter 2. The apostle Peter has just made a powerful speech to a crowd of Jews who are in Jerusalem from all over the world. Now Peter is the guy who Jesus said he was going to build his church on. And here he is. Doing it. And the foundation that this first church is being built on, you'll notice, is preaching the gospel. Which is the shorthand way of talking about the message from God summarised in verse 36. Peter says, here's what God wants you to know... Acts 2:36:
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
This is what he's literally telling them. No metaphors. That God has very concretely raised the crucified Jesus of Nazareth to life again. God has appointed him ruler of the world. And because Peter and the other apostles were first hand eye witnesses, their job is to spread the word. And call people to re-align their lives to that reality. That Jesus should be deferred to in every way as if he's the new President of the United States of America only moreso.
And you'll notice in verse 37, when the people hear this, they're cut to the heart. And they repent. They say, "We've been terribly wrong." And they're baptized and their sins are forgiven and they receive the Holy Spirit. And the church has begun. Verse 41, 3000 added to their number on that first day. And they're gathered by that gospel message and connected together in one spirit.
And you notice what they do next?
The first half of verse 42. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching. That same teaching that gathered them in the first place, they're hanging off every word. Because these are Christ's apostles who are inspired by the spirit to speak the word of God. Which are the words we've now got in scripture.
The church was gathered by God's word. And they gather around God's word. And the church has been ever since. As people have been called into God's church they need feeding from God's word.
And like at the beginning when the word brings repentance, what's taught is always meant to make its way right to the heart. To bring repentance. To bring faith in Jesus. To bring real commitment. And over and over again the New Testament says we meet together to encourage one another in that faith.
And so lets add the next phrase the definition which says: encouraging one another to trust Jesus.
See, fundamental to our meeting together is that we meet around God's word to encourage each other to stay committed to the Lord Jesus. Because it's not an easy road. And it's no surprise when you fall out of the church habit and you disconnect and you stop hearing God's word it gets harder and harder to keep going in faith.
One more step. One more phrase in our definition.
You get a glimpse of it here in Acts chapter 2 as everyone spontaneously just starts sharing their stuff so that no-one's in need. Verse 44 and 45. Read the words. "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." Not just to one another, I take it. But anyone who had need.
That first church understood right away that worshiping Jesus was something that was played out in lives of compassion. And straight away, there wasn't a need between them that couldn't be met.
These guys really cared for each other. Because in Paul's words in Romans 12 they were worshipping God by making themselves living sacrifices. Giving themselves to each other in loving sacrificial service.
So here's our full definition of church. And I wonder if it excites you at all to think you can be part of this.
Which is ultimately very, very simple. And yet changes the world. And which is what I'm convinced we need to come back to at MPC in 2009.
It's not often that computer geeks get it right when it comes to practical life-skills. They're great at fixing computers and that kind of stuff. But listen to Thomas Limoncelli , who wrote the book Time Management for System Administrators. Because he says something profoundly helpful about priorities. He says "We often think that priorities are the order we're going to do things in. But really, priorities also set lists of things that we're not going to do."
He's right. More often than not it's the things we say no to that really define our ultimate priorities. Although saying no to stuff is usually much harder to do.
You know, if you measure it by the sort of church events we'd normally put on the church calendar, last year we had one of the best years on record.
I mean, we had John Chapman, we had Greg Clarke to the food for thought dinner, we had Kent and Barbara Hughes who are huge names overseas, we even had poster boy Mark Driscoll.
But my conviction is, and the elders and the team share this, my conviction is that this year is a year we should be saying no to some stuff. So as to re-focus on the things that really are our priorities.
I wonder if among all the busy-ness of a year like last year, we were overlooking some of the basics. And so things like connecting... by actually being at church on a Sunday became less and less of a priority for some of us. And yet it's a fundamental. Hebrews 10 says don't neglect to meet together. And yet we're ready to neglect meeting together at the slightest excuse.
And growth groups. Which are the next level of connecting. I know that for lots of people growth groups have been a huge support. But I know for others maybe you started out strong and with the best of intentions but things just kept coming up and so you couldn't make it so while other people got to know each other in the group and you just felt out of it. And so went even less. And so right back at square one, as the circle around everyone who calls themselves a part of MPC has grown wider and wider... what it means to be part of MPC has come to mean less and less and less.
So instead of focusing on an event calendar this year, I want to focus on a chart. A chart that's all about the how people grow as followers of Jesus by being part of our church. A chart that's all about how step by step we connect, how we consider God's word together, how we live lives of commitment to the Lord Jesus, how we care with real compassion.
It's a diagram that's useful because it maps out the way church works, is meant to help you grow you stage by stage and step by step towards Christian maturity. And somewhere along that track, you'll see where you are. And the idea is, as you grow as a Christian you keep moving.
I'm not sure where you're up to on that road to maturity as a Christian. But it's all built around the definition of church that we've just seen. And colour coded for your convenience!
Because as a church, we're all about growing one another and encouraging one another and spurring one another on to maturity.
Though again, I think the challenge we face is that there are three very obvious blockage points.
Here's the first one. It's more and more challenging to move dechurched people towards hearing the gospel and coming to faith in Jesus. The Bible calls it evangelism. And we need to be looking for more and more ways to break down that blockage. And we'll be working on that as a key priority this year. Not with big events. But with small and ordinary and regular stuff that you'll hear about over the next few weeks. Like our four re-connect Sundays through the year.
But there are those other blockages as well.
As I said already - I think we've got a real blockage in seeing Christians just being regular at Sunday church. Which is blocking real church family connection. And meaning you're only hearing God's word maybe one week in every three.
And so however we can we need to be looking for ways to take away that blockage as well. And so your leaders this year, your elders, your growth group leaders, the team, we're going to be encouraging you to re-church. By being as regular as you can. Forget all the other church events. And use the time that's freed up to be here for the big event every Sunday. To connect with your church family and hear from God's word, and be encouraged to be trusting Jesus and be helping and caring and praying together.
The other blockage is a big one as well. Blocking 52% of the congregation. And it's the barrier between being regular at church... to actually getting involved in a growth group.
Now I know... that not everyone can be part of a small group.
And I know that there are all sorts of practical reasons. Like your age maybe, like the age and stage of your kids. Which are both reasons why we run a number of daytime groups through the week.
But there are other reasons as well. Like maybe you tried a group once and you were disappointed. Or nobody learned your name. Or you had a crisis and nobody noticed. Or else maybe you think being part of a group will just show up how little you know.
Can I say it's not about that.
And as part of re-church we'll count it a real win this year if we get more people taking the risk and joining up with a growth group.
We're making some tradeoffs. Growth Group studies... to make it easier for you to commit to, they're running in blocks, of six weeks every quarter.
But look, the key thing I want to say is that we know everyone can't be part of a group. But even if you can't do the six weeks, we want you to do group link. Which means signing up as a kind of associate member with a group. And so be part of a social event with a group.
And a community service event with a group.
We're asking you even if you can't join up with a group - maybe you can link with a group. And you can actually sign up just for the group social and service events in the group link column on the signup sheets on the wall.
Friends, if you've just moved to MPC, can I say this is a great year to get started. If you're a long-timer, maybe you were looking forward to a calendar of this year's big events with a bunch of top-line speakers... and you might be disappointed. Because what we're focusing on this year isn't events. It's about people. And about doing stuff as a church family that makes it easy to take away the blockages and move around the spiral that mean we're growing as followers of Jesus.
Rechurch is fundamentally about - do less, be more...
Doing less of the busy stuff of last year like the organizing and the running around and the trying to talk everyone into buying a ticket before the last possible moment. Less of that stuff. So we can be more the church we need to be. Focused on the basics that really make a church.
I want to encourage you this year to re-connect with church. Re-connect with a growth group. Re-connect by having people over for Sunday lunch. Re-connect any way you can think of.
I want to urge you to reconsider God's word. Make sure you've understood the basics of the gospel. Make sure you're hungry to hear God's word from week to week. Be part of a growth group. So you're actually studying God's word in more detail.
I want to challenge you this year to re-commit. With all your heart.
And I want to encourage you to get involved in serving. Not just in a spirit of community service like the Rotary Club. But in a spirit of Jesus service. Motivated by love.
That's rechurch09. God-willing, a great year ahead, even if maybe a little different. A year that's less full of stuff to do. With the challenge of actually being more proactive in being the church family we need to be.