We are at the end of the series called BIG Church. We’ve been talking about the Church being a really big deal for several weeks now. And if you are tuning into this series for the first time, well you sort of catching the end of the sermon. So if you want more details on the subject, take a look back at any or all of the last 6 messages on our website.
We’ve been looking at the book of Acts which explains how the Church got started 2,000 years ago—not as an institution, not as a building—as a movement and why the Church is still such a really, really BIG deal today.
Holy Spirit Comes
Some of you who have been here each week can probably tell this story yourselves by now, but I’ll brief the story for those who haven’t. Just after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to the 11 disciples, and to many others, in fact on one occasion to over 500 at one time. So Jesus then ascends to Heaven and about two months after His resurrection, the disciples received the gift Jesus had promised. That was the Holy Spirit. That they would never be alone. He, through the Holy Spirit, would be with them till the end of the age.
And with the Holy Spirit, they so boldly took to the streets of Jerusalem the message that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, that He died on the cross for the sins of the world, and that He rose from the dead. This was not something they just heard about and believed. This was something they witnessed with their very own eyes.
Thousands Saved and Persecuted
Remember, this was the very same city where Jesus was crucified, and within a few short weeks, over 5,000 Jewish men, plus women and children, so likely 10,000 or more, had embraced that very message. And the Church had begun. It was on the move. Now the explosion of this movement, the Church, rocked the boat of the delegate balance between the Roman Empire and the Jewish authorities. The Jews were allowed to worship the way they wanted only if they kept their believers in check. Ultimately, because of the disturbance, persecution broke out and Saul of Tarsus, or better known as Paul the apostle, became the number one instigator of the persecutions.
But after three years of doing this, he himself ended up converted to following Jesus Christ. That’s the power in this message. Not only did he become converted, but he became the number one advocate for the Way, the number one spokesperson for this movement, the Church. He planted ecclesias, churches all over the known world. Roman citizens and Greek speaking people with a completely different background and culture than his own began to embrace this idea that Jesus is the Christ, died for their sins, and rose from the grave, and it spread like wildfire.
Even though the Romans and the Greeks had a ton of gods, he would tell them that in spite of what you’ve always believed, the one, true, living God has done something unique in your midst. He has sent His Son to address the problem that no one else could. God has sent His Son into this world to address your sin, to die for your sin. And suddenly, people from all different nationalities, all over the known Roman world began to embrace Jesus as their very own Savior. That’s how this whole thing called Church, that is still such a BIG deal today, got started.
Dark Days in the Church
Then as time went on, over the centuries there were some very dark days in the Church. Times like the Middle Ages, the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition when some horrible things were done in the name of Jesus. And there were other very high profile, tragic things that happened as part of the Church. Leadership went off course, theology went really bad, to where people felt like they could sin all they wanted to, then just pay indulgences and be guaranteed a spot in heaven.
But in spite of all those dark days over the years, there has always been a remnant. There has always been a group of people that got it, that understood this is a mission, this is a movement. It’s not about a building, it’s not about a liturgy, it’s not about a style, it’s not about ‘we’ve never done it that way’. It’s about this simple message that transformed Jerusalem and beyond, two thousand years ago; that God has done something unique in our midst. He has sent His Son as the ultimate and last sacrifice to pay for our sin, and then even more miraculously, raised Him from the dead to show the hope of eternal life.
Since that time, so many incredible things have also happened in the name of Jesus. Hospitals have been built all over the world, millions of people have been fed, housed, given homes, millions of children have been sent to school, slavery was done away with, missionaries have risked their lives and given their lives in order to take this incredible message of the Gospel without all the churchiness, without all the stuff that polluted the message, just the raw message of the Gospel, to people all over the world. All in the name of Jesus.
So as we gather together today, there are people gathering all over the world in the name of Jesus. And this movement continues to move in spite of the formality of some churches, in spite of the fact that so many churches have become very insider focused. Again, why? Because there’s always been a group of people that understands that this message and this better life is for all nations, for all people. There has always been a group of people that has not only embraced the message, but made sure that it was handed off to the next generation and handed off in a way that it would continue to be handed off generation after generation after generation.
BIG Opportunities for the Church
That brings us to today. And that brings us to us, because now it’s our turn. God and the previous generation have handed us the baton. What we have to decided is: Is the Church for church people, or is the Church for un-churched people? Is the Church for people who can follow the rules, or is it for people who just need to know the forgiveness of God?
A few weeks ago we talked about the very first church meeting where James, the brother of Jesus, stood up and said this about who the Church is for.
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
In other words, let’s not complicate it. Let’s not make it too formal. Let’s keep it simple. Let’s make it as easy as possible for people who are turning to God to understand that God has done something unique in our midst. This is not our message to complicate. This is not our message to keep to ourselves, to keep locked up in these four walls. But it is our job, our responsibly to share the message of Jesus Christ.
You see, we all have an influence. Just like you are being influence by people all the time, some good, some not so good, you also influence others all the time. A lot of times we think of the bad influences, but on the flip side, the influence we have to give is really a gift. It can be a tool that helps people to see, and learn and understand who Jesus Christ really is. Every day we are given opportunities to use our influence to make a difference in a very lost and confused world. And when God gives you something, are we not supposed to be good stewards of that gift?
That may mean we have to do things differently. That may mean we have to step out of our comfort zones, out of the ways we’ve always done it. In fact, most times that’s exactly what we have to do. We need to do things and say things that we have never done before.
When you read the book of Acts, the reason the message of Jesus survived the first century, the reason it survived the destruction of the Temple, and the destruction of the Roman Empire is because there was a group of people that was so extraordinarily bold and so extraordinarily confident, that were willing to say things and do things in ways they had never been said or done before. And they just wouldn’t back down. I don’t know about you, but I really want to be a part of that group. I want to be a part of that remnant. I want to be a part of the extension of what happened two thousand years ago when the local church had begun. I want to be a part of this movement…and I certainly do not want to stand in its way.
Responsibility and opportunity as a church
But this is not a “me” thing, this is a “we” thing—and as we move into this next part of our time together and talk about our responsibility and our opportunity as a church, I need this to be an all-skate, meaning everybody in. We all need for this to be an all-skate. And as I’m saying that, some of you are thinking, but I can’t do that. I can’t be that bold. I can’t go out there on those four little wheels and keep my balance. I can’t go out into the world and be that bold. That’s just not me.
If you could just step into my shoes. If you could see what I see and could see you the way I see you. Do you ever think about that as a parent? As parents, we look at our kids going, boy, if you could see you the way I see you and all the potential you have. If you could see you and if you could see us the way I see you and the way I see us, I’m telling you, you would be so extraordinarily excited about what we could do together to make a difference in this very community around us.
But for us to make that difference, everybody needs to get involved at some level. Now, at the beginning of this series, we talked about the boldness of the early Church, and I asked you to pray about being bold. And you’ll remember if you were here, I asked you to stand up with me and say the same bold prayer Peter and John and the other disciples prayed.
“Enable me to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of Jesus.”
That was the prayer of the first century Church. If ever there was a time in the life of our church that we need to be bold and take risks, it’s now. With what’s going on in our nation right now, we have a very unique opportunity to be the Church, and we can’t miss this.
So I need you to do some things, and I need you to do those things at a level you haven’t done them before. We need you to be involved, because we believe everybody spends eternity somewhere, right? We believe that Jesus is the hope of the world. We believe the Church isn’t a building, it’s not an institution—it’s a movement—so we need you to move with us.
The question is, are we going to be good stewards with what God has put before us or are we just going to be content with what we have, comfortable with where we are and just keep doing what we’re doing and keep the message to ourselves? Are we going to let the world around us tell us no, this isn’t the right time? It’s too hard right now because of the coronavirus, because of the political drama. But that stuff should just be fueling us making us want to share the message of Jesus Christ all the more!
Four areas that we need to be bold in to fulfill the mission.
I. We need to be bold in our INVITATIONS.
There are people that you’ve thought about inviting to church, you know they would benefit from it, and you still haven’t invited them. You got some practice with the Back to Church Sunday, and you did a great job! Because of you, there were 15 guests and some introduced to our church for the very first time. Many others were invited that didn’t attend, but again it gave us all great practice.
But now it’s time to ramp up our boldness, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not so we will get bigger in numbers; although that does show results. But you have such beautiful gifts to give to people. Your hospitality is extraordinary. You genuinely care about others, especially those you don’t know. When someone new comes, you actually work to build relationships with those people. Your love in this gathering is so special, so giving, so deep.
If you don’t invite and don’t share your gifts, if it becomes just the ‘church people’ in this gathering, we will slowly, over time, turn and become a very insider congregation. And we will no longer be on mission. I need you to be bold inviters; I need you to take risks in your invitation. And you know what? You need that! Because it will grow your faith. It will stretch and strengthen your faith. And there are people who someday you’ll have the joy of seeing them baptized, and they may have you stand right next to them on this stage, but whether you’re on stage with them or not, you are going to be in tears at what God used you to accomplish.
When you invest in the lives of the people around you that you love, that you work with, that you play golf with, and then when it’s appropriate, you invite them to an environment where they can be loved and cared for in Jesus’ name, that’s being the Church on mission. God needs us to be a little bit bolder. And not just for the sake of the person that you are inviting, but also so that we as a congregation and as individuals, we stay on task with what God has called us to do.
II. We need you to be bold in your VOLUNTEERING.
Now, there are many of you who volunteer in some way in this church, and I just want to say thank you. Thank you for what you do in this church because you are making a difference in the lives of our children, our young adults, our community, and in the lives and experiences of everybody who attends our church.
But there is still work to be done. Not that we need to be like any other church, or do everything the big ones are doing. We are who we are and have the gifts that God has given us, therefore we fulfill the mission the way God designed us, as this gathering. Just look at what the disciples were able to do as only 12 plus a few others. Being a small church is no excuse to not be able to fulfill the mission. We can still have quality worship, strong small groups that nurture and profoundly study the bible. We can still do beautiful outreach that meets new people and shares the love of Christ. And we can be a healthy part of the body of Christ.
If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines, I need you to get in the volunteer game. If are doing some, but know you could do more and just don’t know what that is, see me. We’ll talk and I will pray with you about how God wants you to get involved.
Overall, we need you to be bold in your volunteering, which means you may need to consider volunteering in an area you never considered volunteering before. But you know what, I know you’re going to like it. In fact, you’re going to love it. When you are doing the things God is asking you to do and using the gifts He has given you, it is such an amazing joy. Think about it this way, give back in areas that have been given to you.
We’re not going to throw you in a classroom and say good luck; we’ll see you in an hour. We love our kids too much to do that. No, we’ll pray and find the right direction God wants you in and we’ll train you and work with you to be able to accomplish the need. We must be good stewards of the opportunity that God has put before us. We must be bold and willing to fulfill the mission.
III. We also need to be bold in our GENEROSITY, bold with our GIVING.
Let me say something about this very clearly. I need you to be bold in your giving, not because we need your money, but because God wants to be first in your heart. When you give to God from the first of your income, not the last, not just what’s left over, you’re actually lining up your priorities.
You’re saying to God, I get it. You gave me this income to begin with, and since I want you first in my life, I’m going to give to you what is yours, not mine. We are only managers of the resources God gives us. Giving to God helps us conquer greed, helps us properly manage God’s resources, and opens us to receive God’s special blessings.
Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
Now look, if you are a tither, thank you. If you are a percentage giver, great. I encourage you to try even upping your percentage.
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
I could go on. There are a ton of scriptures about money. Why? Because it’s so easy to put our money ahead of God. I want you to become bold in your giving so you are lining up your priorities in the way they were always meant to be.
IV. We need to pray bold PRAYERS.
Let me remind you specifically what I mean. First of all, go ahead and continue to pray thank you for the day, and help us to get through our vacation safely, and help me to make an ‘A’ on my test. Then after you’re done with all the prayers that you always pray, the ones that usually work out anyways, I need you to pray some bold prayers.
Think about the person you know at work or in your neighborhood who you can’t imagine ever stepping foot in the church, and pray for him or her every single day. Pray bold. Nobody else is likely praying for him or her and someone has got to do it!
Pray bold prayers for the teenagers and adolescents in our country. Pray bold prayers that God would raise up the next generation of Church leaders, and would raise up the next generation of missionaries, and the next generation of political leaders from this generation coming up. That this would be the generation that says, “I get it. I’m not leaving church after high school. I get it. I want to be a follower of Jesus all the way through college.” That God would do something unique in the hearts and the lives of the teenagers in our country, and local church.
Pray bold prayers, not just about tests and getting into the college of their choice. That’s going to work out, but somebody’s got to pray for this next generation to be bold as well. And if you’ve got a child at home or you deal with them during the day, let that be your reminder.
Come on, let’s pray bold prayers. We have an opportunity right now in our country that is screaming for us to do something. It may seem dragged out in many ways, but really it’s a short window of time, and we want to leverage it for everything we can for the sake of what can happen in our community, our country, and the world.
Why does all this matter? Because the Church matters. The message of Jesus Christ that the Church is built on, that our country is built on, matters! This message is so powerful! If you want to see a difference in our nation, then start praying the bold prayer to get the message of Jesus Christ out into our world.
Now at the beginning of this series, we started at the beginning of the book of Acts, which holds the story of how the Church began, and I want to finish our time together and finish this series by reading to you the final verses in the book of Acts. The book ends with Paul in prison. He was arrested in Caesarea, spent a couple of years there, and then they took him all the way up here to Rome. It’s an incredible story in Acts 28, and I encourage you to read it for yourself. He gets shipwrecked and all. He finally gets to Rome, and is immediately put in prison. But he got there before the charges did, so the officials said we’re not even sure what you’re charged with, but we can’t let you go.
So they put him in a home and chained him by either his wrists or his ankles to a Roman soldier. And for two years, he sits in this home waiting for his charges to show up.
And three days after he gets there, he sends word out to all the Jewish leaders in Rome to come visit him. And Paul the guys who had so much happen to him while sharing the message is at again. The Jewish leaders show up at this house, and the reason they show up is that they’ve heard so many bad things about this group called the Way or Christians, and they know that Paul’s the ring leader, so they go and ask him what all this fuss is about.
And Paul is like, so glad you asked. Paul, in chains, begins to preach the gospel to the Jewish leaders in Rome. And he watches their eyes and their body language, and he realizes they’re not getting it. They’re not buying it. They think he’s crazy, like they’ve heard he was. They think, there’s no way this could be true. No wonder this guy is in chains under arrest.
At the very end of the book of Acts, Paul shares with the Jewish leaders who Christ is, and they reject it. He says to the Jewish people: God has done something in your midst and you’ve rejected it, you’ve rejected your Messiah, but God is not finished. God is sending this message to the Gentiles which fulfills the prophecy, and I’m giving you guys in Rome a heads-up. The Gentiles are going to listen, and they’re going to embrace it, and it’s going to circle the globe.
This is his conclusion:
28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” 30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.
And what did he talk about when they would show up?
31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ with all [say it with me] boldness and without hindrance.
In chains, with boldness and without hindrance, knowing that at any moment they could take him down the road and cut his head off, which is what eventually happened.
He was released, rearrested, Nero had him executed, and the primary spokesman for the Church was silenced—but not the Church, because the Church is a big deal. The Church was God’s idea, and we have been invited to be a part of it for our generation.
So come on, let’s pray bold prayers. Let’s give boldly. Let’s serve boldly. Let’s invite boldly, because we have been invited to be a part of this thing that God has begun and will continue to the very end of the age.
The same Holy Spirit that was given to the disciples to so boldly go out in the dangerous streets of Jerusalem, the same Holy Spirit that converted Paul to a follower of Jesus Christ, the same Holy Spirit that converted all those Gentiles that formed those first ecclesias, is the same Holy Spirit that is in each and every one of us here today. We too can make a really big difference in our generation and world.