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Lombard CRC

You Can't Do Faith Alone

To understand how extraordinary these verses are we have to remember the kind of life

people aspired to in the first century

after Jesus lived on earth.

The good life,

the way to show you had made it,

the Roman way,

looked something like this:

To be a respected and honored person,

well man, back then,

because woman weren’t really valued

except in relationship to men,

but to be a good man first of all

you needed to live in the city,

for there you were validated and valued by others.

And in the city you could compare and contrast

what you had:

your wealth,

how many servants you owned,

your civil position,

your allegiance to Caesar –

you could compare yourself to the wealth of others – whoever had more was better.

And if you could add any achievements

to what you had accumulated,

that would position you above your neighbor,

and would bring praise to your life.

That was the Roman way,

and not much has changed in our day.

Wealth,

position,

status,

achievement,

we glory in the things that bring us glory.

We are tempted to find assurance and peace

in these material and temporal things:

I will sleep better if people think well of me,

if I have a few dollars in the bank,

if I am secure in my job,

well, you can fill in the blanks.

 

But you and I know the problem with this:

if I find peace in the good things that happen,

what about when bad things happen?

if I look good when I succeed,

what do I look like when I fail?

how much is enough,

and if I live for more

that means others will live with less . . .

 

Does faith have any good news to say to this?

Does believing that Jesus lived and died

for the forgiveness of our sins

make any lasting difference,

or bring any change for the better?

Acts 2 describes what the Christian life looks like

opposed to what many thought

the good life ought to look like:

instead of using others to make you look good,

Christians lived in community.

Not just any old community,

but a community shaped by Jesus, not Caesar,

and what Jesus stands for:

loving sacrifice, merciful serving, giving, not getting:

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

It was a community of men and women.

Rich and poor.

This community praised God instead of self.

In a place not for getting ahead,

but to serve toward salvation.

 

This is how you change your life for the better.

This is how you bless and change the world.

This is the way of Jesus instead of the American way.

 

It sounds so ordinary, doesn’t it.

I mean, this is not a verse you memorize

or post on Facebook to cheer up a friend.

If I asked you how you change the world today

you might talk about organizing protests

who to vote for or who NOT to vote for

how to prepare for your own future . . .

But look at the results of these holy habits:

43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles . . . (47) enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 

Our Lord Jesus is not content to give us

a personal, private salvation

that isn’t worth anything until we get to heaven.

He is Lord of all,

and out to get back the creation

and all who belong to him.

So he builds his church,

and he commands a certain lifestyle

and commitment,

in order to transform life

and neighborhoods and nations.

 

This is what we’re going to explore together

over the next couple of months.

Our theme is: how the Spirit’s Church acts,

and as we study some of the church stories

in the Book of Acts

we hope to be transformed by the Holy Spirit

in what it means to be church together,

and how to bring Christ

as we are sent out each day

to school and to work

at home and in our neighborhoods.

 

It starts by belonging in Christ’s church.

‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings and to the fellowship . . .’

You are not meant to go it alone.

The Bible is clear that you can’t do faith in Jesus

by yourself.

This is because you and I were made

and remade in the image of God,

God is three-in-one,

Father-Son-Holy Spirit,

a holy community perfectly united as one.

To be Christian is to be church,

to belong to the body:

it doesn’t mean we’re the same,

for we all have different gifts;

it doesn’t mean we’re all to act the same,

because we each have different callings, responsibilities, crosses to bear;

it doesn’t mean we all have to like the same things,

God has placed different passions within us.

It means we are united in Christ,

living under the Spirit’s directing –

1 Cor 12: 4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

 

So I would tell you if you want to experience

the transforming presence of Jesus in your life

stay devoted, committed to his church.

The author of Acts is led to describe

our commitment in these four ways:

devotion to the apostles teachings

devotion to the fellowship

devotion to the breaking of the bread

devotion to prayer

 

and it resulted in these daily practices:

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 . . .

 

In other words,

a daily activity of sharing life

in all its circumstances together.

This is life directed by Jesus

and not by the culture or powers of the day.

And that’s the takeaway for us this morning.

 

This word from Breakpoint struck me:

At one the presidential rallies a picture shows the attendees with their backs to the candidate.

It takes a moment to figure out what’s happening. Then you realize, they’re holding smart phones, trying to snap selfies with the candidate!

 “Increasingly,” wrote one tech columnist at CNET, “we prefer to be seen with each other, instead of looking at each other.”

As humans, we need to stop living life for the “likes.” And actually live again.

Here’s how you live again:

with an active devotion to Christ Jesus,

the true human,

and an active belonging in his family,

his community, the church.

This will transform you to be a blessing

in each circumstance or situation

to which the Spirit sends you.

 

So think about your devotion to these things.

Hear this as the Spirit’s invitation

to form you for Christ’s glory.

Be assured that the Spirit is with you

in such practices:

 

devotion to the apostles’ teachings

to be a disciple of Jesus is constantly learning

what it means to live out the gospel day by day,

in each role, relationship and responsibility we have.

This is not just head knowledge, tho it is that also.

What did the apostles teach –

the life and death of Jesus,

his resurrection and ascension,

his grace and righteousness.

All that is given us in Scripture today.

This is why the reading and preaching of the word

is central to our worship services.

This is why a time of Bible teaching

and doctrinal learning is central

to our kids programs and adult small groups

and Sunday school ministries.

To be church,

what God intends,

we must be formed and shaped

in the image of Christ by his word.

 

But as I said,

while some of this is head knowledge,

it is not just that.

It is a shaping of our loves.

James KA Smith says it this way:

Discipleship is being intentional about what you

love . . . Jesus’ command to follow him is a command to align our loves and longings with his – to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and his kingdom righteousness . . .

 

It is in the devotion to the fellowship

as we practice the righteousness of Christ

that our loves are shaped toward godliness.

That fellowship looked like this:

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 . . .

 

The word for holding everything in common

is the same word for fellowship, or community.

It meant they were in it together

and had each other’s backs.

Some see in this a call to reject

our capitalistic-based economy

and to adopt a communistic or socialistic way of life.

I don’t think the passage speaks in favor

of any economic structure, in that sense,

it is a rejection of assuming

the way we handle our economics in the west

is preferred by God.

It is a rejection of how to build the good life

under Roman occupation,

so it is a rejection of thinking

to make it financially in our world means

we are automatically blessed by God or have made it.

The verses are teaching

you can live a holy life

in whatever circumstance you find yourself.

But only by adopting the economics of Christ.

Who gave to Caesar what was Caesar’s

but gave to God what was God’s.

Who praised the widow who gave all she had.

Who warned that you can’t serve both God and money.

 

The point here is that the church behaved in a holy

different way when it came to possessions.

And since we are to be church today,

we too should behave in a holy different way

when it comes to our possessions and resources.

Some had a lot and with that helped those in need.

Some didn’t have enough

and received from those who did.

Live differently,

put Christ first in my choices and decisions,

even with what I have and what I want.

 

This was a judgment against

the way to make it in a first century world.

How can you gain and achieve more

if you’re giving what you have away?

You may not know it, but the world is a lonely place.

And just as Jesus gave up heaven to be one with us

now his church is to give in ways that

bless with love, friendship and family.

The church had a devotion to one another

in the community,

how’s your devotion?

Could you measure it in terms of what you give,

not what you get?

 

devotion to the breaking of the bread

the first reference to this

is our practice of Lord’s Supper or communion.

But remember, this is in the context of fellowship,

of being a community intentionally formed

to be like Christ Jesus in thought, word and deed.

So this is a reminder that

what we do in our participation of the Lord’s Supper is not some private, personal faith exercise.

It is communion after all,

a sign of our belonging together

with Jesus as our Lord.

Our celebration reminds us that our identity

is found in the loving sacrifice of God.

This is what unites us together,

we are saved by grace –

we don’t merit God’s favor, we receive it undeserved.

And this power overcomes any divisions

that are set up to keep us apart:

there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free,

male nor female, but all are one in Christ,

Paul wrote to the Galatians.

And every time we participate in the Lord’s Supper we remember that we are not to be known

first of all by our race or ethnic group

or orientation or social status,

but as members of the body of Christ.

We celebrate the Lord’s Supper today

on World Communion Sunday,

to remember that our unity extends

beyond these church walls

to brothers and sisters throughout the city,

across the nation,

beyond borders,

and around the world.

What difference does that make?

Since I am united to Syrian Christians in Christ,

and by the sacrament sit at the same table,

their concerns are my concerns.

And I am united to people of different races,

so their fears are mine too,

and I must work toward racial reconciliation.

 

I share in Christ’s sacrifice with

foreigners and immigrants and strangers,

so the command to love my neighbor is a debt

I owe them as well.

I sit with those who are both

richer and poorer than me,

so the needs of the poor and homeless

are to be met by me also.

Does your participation in the Lord’s Supper

show in what you say and how you act

toward the stranger, the poor, the refugee,

the homeless one, the disabled person,

the person of color?

 

Jesus was crucified for who he ate with.

He was criticized for the company he kept:

even sinners and tax collectors sit and eat with him,

the Pharisees accused.

As we leave after celebrating communion,

we are sent out to expand our tables,

sharing life beyond what is comfortable

and even expected,

so let me ask us:

how does who you eat with and who you don’t measure your faith?

how might you expand your table fellowship?

 

And they were devoted to prayer -

If we want to be changed by Christ

we must begin in prayer.

We must ask the Spirit,

not merely for things or for blessings,

but to be transformed, made holy.

And did you notice?

Did you notice that

43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles . . . (47) enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 

I don’t think I pray about that often enough:

that witness of the wonders and signs

the Spirit performs on behalf of God’s people.

I don’t intentionally look for miracles.

I’m thinking that means I miss a lot of them.

Not for myself.

Not to cheapen the reality of miracles

into conveniences for you or me.

But this is the word of the Lord,

and it’s a living word,

so it applies to us today,

and this tells me

when God’s people live in community

under the Lordship of Christ

exercising faith in Jesus

awesome and wonderful things happen.

Lord, we pray, let us see your grace-filled wonders

and praise you for your miraculous presence.

It’s time to make that more a feature of our prayers.

 

And also those prayers for salvation for many more.

‘the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’

Our community is not a closed community.

There is always one more chair at our tables,

there is always room

for one more person in our lives.

And we’ll see how the Spirit sends out the church,

beyond their ideas of comfort,

so that many more are added

to the number of those redeemed by Christ.

 

This is my prayer for us this season,

the Lord has blessed us richly,

and it’s time for us to see Lombard CRC

as a church SENT.

Each of us sent out every day

to our schoolrooms and workplaces,

backyards and streets,

sent to bless

by the virtues of sacrifice and mercy

we have practiced as the body of Christ,

sent to love others

as our love is formed by Christ.

 

And we will experience grace.

That’s the amazing thing here:

the church enjoyed the favor of the people.

We don’t know that today.

This favor won’t be restored to us

by being nice or politically correct

or adopting the fashionable lifestyles

and labels of 2016 culture.

But when we are devoted to Christ

and live for him,

that holy difference will be welcomed.

 

Acts begins with the church standing

before the world.

To be sure,

the world reacted to what the church said,

but they responded to how the church lived.

Devotion –

to the word of God

to the people of God

to the meal of Christ

to the prayers of the Spirit.

 

This is to be changed for the better.

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