Acts 2:42-47 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he 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.
In the animated movie Ice Age, when saber-tooth tigers attack a tribe of nomads, a mother and her baby attempt to outrun the man-eating beasts but are cornered at a raging waterfall. The little boy is discovered by a wooly mammoth named Manfred, a sloth name Sid, and a saber-tooth tiger named Diego. These three unlikely companions unite on a common mission to return the baby to his father.
As the trio treks through a mountainous terrain of ice and snow carrying the baby, at one point the mammoth, sloth, and tiger realize they’re on an erupting volcano. The heat of the lava melts the glacier bridges atop the ice fields, separating Diego from the others. Isolated on a quickly melting island of ice, Diego jumps to reach the others, but falls short. Dangling from the edge of the ice field, his grip falters, and he falls. Manfred, unwilling to let Diego perish, leaps into a chasm after him and tosses the tiger upwards to safety. Diego, realizing the danger involved in the rescue, is moved by Manfred’s compassion, courage, and sacrifice.
“Why did you do that?” he asks. “You could have died trying to save me.”
Humbly, the mammoth responds, “That’s what you do when you’re part of a herd. You look after each other.” Amazed at the convergence of circumstances that has brought these three together, Sid muses aloud. “I don’t know about you guys, but we are one strange herd.”
One strange herd! Don’t you feel like that’s a great description of the church sometimes? A mix of people with different personalities, different backgrounds, different ideas sometimes, who might never hang out together— except for the one thing that we have in common: we love Jesus. And in one way or another, we have been transformed by His amazing love and mercy. Because of that, we hang out together. But even more than that, as the film illustrates in a cute way, as a “herd” of Christ followers, we look after each other—even if we might look a little strange at times.
There is no better illustration of a Christ-Community than the first century church. The verses we read in Acts 2 scream “community.” I would like to suggest that a Christ Community has at least five characteristics. First of all, it is a:
COLLECTED COMMUNITY You are and I are here today ultimately because of one common element which precedes every other characteristic. We have been collected or gathered by God through the blood of Jesus into this herd, into this pack, into this group called the Family of God or as Scripture puts it, the “Body of Christ.” We’re not here because we are all following the same pop stars or sports figures. We aren’t here because we all enjoy the same TV shows and movies. We aren’t here because we share the same hobbies or because we are all best friends outside of church. We are here today because God has instituted the church, the Body of Christ, to represent Jesus on earth. We come at His invitation. We come because He has made it possible for us to relate with one another in a spiritual community that could not be possible apart from the blood of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 4:4-6 tells us, “There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all.”
Only those who are believers in Christ whose sins have been forgiven through His blood are members of this Body. The goal of this collected community is that we are populated over the entire earth to represent Christ in every location. So we not only have a name as the Body of Christ, but we also have a very distinct mission which is to be Christ on earth. Have you ever considered the magnitude of that responsibility? You and I are called to be Christ on earth. It is an immense calling and responsibility.
The first century church took it so seriously. They knew that in order to become what Christ intended they become on earth, they had to come together and spend time together. They were eager to get to Bible study. They were eager to celebrate communion. They were eager to see each other a few times a week. Yes, they had their individual lives, but they had a life together that was fulfilling, compelling, and energizing. Missing church gatherings wasn’t something they entertained. It wasn’t a struggle to get them to assemble and Scripture tells us it made them glad (Acts 2:46). It was their commitment to assemble and spend time together in worship and the Word that led to the shaping of their identity as Christ’s Body on earth. God knit them together so He could use them which brings me to my second point.
A Christ community is a COLLABORATIVE COMMUNITY. We may not all have the same interests outside of our spiritual pursuits, but we are to have the same goals when it comes to representing Christ on earth. I love the “all in” feeling I get when I read the Acts passage. EVERYONE was filled with awe. There were miracles and signs and wonders taking place in their worship services! The Body of Christ was a conduit for the supernatural. What Jesus had done on earth was being experienced and multiplied through His Body. ALL the believers were together and were into it. They had everything IN COMMON. They loved being together in one another’s homes. The energy in those settings must have been explosive! Imagine a church service where everyone was into what is going on, not just with their attention but with all of their passion as well.
The coming together wasn’t the only collaborative part. They were doing more than collaborating in worship. Outside of the times of worship they were collaborating and conspiring and conveying the Gospel Message through acts of service in their community. They were taking the Christ Community to the streets! They sold stuff in order to fund their mission! They went to the Palestine Pawn Shop and haggled with the local Pawn Shop owners
just so they could get the best deals on their goods in order to give the money to people who had needs. Jesus hadn’t told them to sell stuff and help people out. It was just a natural overflow from their collectedness. Their collectedness led to collaboration and started spilling out into practical ministry on the streets. Look at verse 44: “All the believers were together and had everything in common but only 20% of the people did 80% of the work, and only 5% of the people tithed.” That’s not what it says in the text of course. However, today’s most recent statistics by the George Barna group report those are the reported figures. The early church, however, had a much more collaborative view of life. They shared with one another freely.
Now before you get discouraged let me say that I believe the statistics for TVCOG are somewhat better than that, and I also know when we have presented a need that could be met, there are many who rise to the challenge and get involved. I’ve even seen efforts as we have launched our capital campaign from some members to sell items of value to and to make those funds available for “Mission Possible.” I have posted needs on Facebook from people in the community and almost every time whether it is a pair of shoes, a new coat, a washer, or a Christmas tree that someone needs, without even questioning why, someone calls me to say they can help. It would be neat to have the reputation in the community that we are excessive sharers!
I wish we had kept statistics on how many outreaches we have done in the past seven years. I couldn’t begin to imagine the number of bottles of water, air fresheners, coats, backpacks, hotdogs, popcorn, furniture, appliances, and other items that have flowed through this ministry into the community of Putnam County and beyond. Can you imagine trying to count the pieces of candy we have distributed? I will bet it is well over one million! It isn’t anything for us to have 75 volunteers for one of our big events or to have 200 people participating during one of our Community Service Invasion weekends. It has been beautiful to watch! I believe this church is on a path to return to that first century ideal of collaborating for the good of all! Together we can accomplish great things!
Every one of you has something to bring to the table in this ministry. You have gifts and skills and interests and connections and ideas and resources that can be used in concert with someone else’s abilities and resources and when we put it all together to impact someone’s life that is one of the times our witness becomes the most effective.
Third, a Christ Community is a CARING COMMUNITY-We recently were nicknamed the “hospital on the hill” by someone in our community. It’s true. They actually told one of our members that is what we are like. That was beautiful because it is what a Christ Community ought to be known for. Christ never said, “I am too tired to care.” He never said, “I don’t have the money to care.” He never said, “It is someone else’s responsibility to care.” Remember, we are to do the ministry of Christ on earth. Caring for one another and for the hurting people in our communities is paramount. That is why we have offered classes for people with life controlling issues. That is why we offer Griefshare and Divorce Care. We want to show people God cares about their pain.
That is why we have altars for prayer and encourage people to pray with one another. We want people to know they don’t have to walk alone. That is why we have prayer pots with prayer requests in them. We want people to know we will take their needs seriously and pray. That is why we are developing a way to track attendance and starting this Thursday anyone who has missed two weeks in a row is going to hear from people here at the church. That is why we try to assist people financially with a little bit of help from time to time to get caught up on their rent or electric bill. That is why we send cards to folks when there has been a death in their family or a physical illness that has left them depleted and discouraged. That is why time after time after time our staff and others have dropped everything they were doing to go to a hospital or home when someone was in crisis. That is why we have people who regularly visit shut in and sick people. That is why we have a meal ministry when there is a need due to an elongated sickness, when there is a funeral, or when a new baby is born and mom and dad are worn out. That is why our staff freely gives out their phone numbers and emails so that you can reach us when you are hurting. That is why we have a counseling ministry for you to take advantage of.
And let me say without apology that we will continue to strive to be a first century New Testament church as we reach further and more on purpose to every kind of person. Look at verse 45 again: “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to ANYONE as he had need.” They didn’t discriminate. They didn’t qualify who would receive help. Murderers, thieves, adulterers, addicts, homosexuals, liars, drunks, hookers and hoodlums are all welcome here! The rich and the poor are all welcome here. The young and the old are all welcome here. Red, yellow, black, white, brown, and purple, tattooed, and even those who don’t like Kentucky basketball, THEY WILL ALL BE WELCOMED HERE! We will minister to everyone that God by His grace and power will trust us with. Wouldn’t it be awesome that even though our demographic here in Putnam County wouldn’t support the idea, that the love and concern we have for all people is so displayed and so compelling that people of every race and ethnicity would drive out of their way to join us! It would be a personal dream come true!
My hope as we continue to share our stories is that this will always be a safe place where people know that no matter what they have done or where they have been that our concern is that they move into the future God has for them. My heartbeat is that we would never condemn or shame anyone for sharing their story, but that we would thank them and embrace them and support as they walk into a victorious future. It was absolutely beautiful a few Wednesday nights ago to witness the spontaneous story telling by one of our members who shared they were a gambling addict. As the story flowed from their lips compassion flowed from the seats of the congregation and as the person took their seat many one by one went over to embrace the individual. What a special moment to witness. That is the kind of care with which we are to treat one another.
Romans 12:15 says we are to mourn with those who mourn. When people are hurting and grieving it should stir us and move us to action. God wants to use every person in this church to help someone else make it through their day with courage and encouragement. People should be able to testify that because they are part of the Body of Christ when their crisis came they had support from their church family in their time of need. I hope you can say that this morning about TVCOG. We don’t always get to someone right when it could be most helpful. We may not always remember to follow up on every need, but to the best of our ability we are striving to come alongside you when you let us know you need it or when God lets us know you need it.
Fourth, a Christ Community is a CORRECTIVE COMMUNITY.
This whole “everyone in” collaborative and caring spirit that was exhibited in the first century church was so much the norm that in Acts 5 just three short chapters later when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the apostles they were called out on it. Accountability was super important in the early church. If someone stepped out of God’s way, one of the bretheren or sistern stepped into their face! Hypocrisy wasn’t tolerated. Period.
It would be irresponsible of me as your pastor and I believe would be sin for me to tell you that God loves you so much that however you choose to live is fine with Him. That is not the case. In fact, He has established principles for the discipline of His people through His body to help people see their need for repentance, confession, restitution and reconciliation.
Discipline involves training. It is my responsibility to teach what God expects of His people. That discipline involves encouragement and support to ward off sinful choices. We are all accountable for each other. We all need to be invested in each other’s spiritual success. When we see someone headed off course, we need to prayerfully and in love find a way to speak the truth (Eph. 4:15). We need to develop an attitude that welcomes discipline and loving correction because it could save us from stupid and destructive mistakes. Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” Just quoting the Bible, folks!
The goals of discipline include:
A desire to keep a person from being lost to Satan
To prevent hurt and misunderstandings
To protect the unity of the church
To keep families from falling apart
To keep us from accepting false teachings, (Acts 20:28-31)
To keep someone’s personal witness from being compromised
To keep the witness of the entire Body of Christ intact. Guess what? One hypocrite, in the world’s estimation, makes hypocrites of us all. Correction is so important!
It is not ok to hurt people. It is not ok to know we have hurt people and to feel no remorse about it and to not repent from it and to seek reconciliation for it. First Corinthians 5:9–13 talks about that scenario. I don’t have time to go into it in detail. The reason we can’t just live any way we please is because we represent Christ on earth. He lived to please the Father. He lived to demonstrate holiness. I firmly believe no one has ever achieved the character of holiness without discipline. I’m not talking about beating people up with Bible verses and harsh words. I am not talking about judgment and shame and excommunication. But I am talking about speaking truth in love.
We dedicate babies and children to the Lord here, and when we do we ask you as a congregation to stand and say you will pray for and protect and look out for the children who are being dedicated. If you know one of our young people is headed down a destructive path, you have a responsibility to do something about it.
Young people, look out for one another. If you know one of your friends is doing something destructive don’t just sit back and say, “It’s their life. They can do what they want with it.” That isn’t the way a Christ Community responds. We need to show we care by going first privately to that person. We need to question if they are thinking clearly. We need to show them from God’s Word why we have a concern. We need to ask if we can pray for them. If what they are doing is dangerous to themselves and others you need to let an adult know. I would rather have someone hate me for a few months because I told on them than hate myself because they destroyed their lives when I could have done something to help.
Finally, I believe a Christ Community is a CELEBRATORY COMMUNITY. Acts 2:47 says they were praising God and enjoying the favor of the community. They were winning at home. They were high fiving each other. They were exchanging their God-stories. When one person won they all won. They were happy for each other and there was no spirit of competition.
Romans 12:15 tells us we are to rejoice with those who rejoice! It is a spiritual command! One reason I love Facebook is because when I hear about someone from our church who succeeds in some area whether sports or career, academics or whatever the case may be, I thoroughly enjoy congratulating them and making sure as many of you know about it as possible. When your kid beats their fastest time or gets the Promise Scholarship or is named to the homecoming court of their high school, I want to celebrate it with you. It is fun to share our victories! Another reason I love Facebook is because I see many of you on there celebrating unashamedly what God did in your life or what God did in one of our services. Appropriate celebration gives God glory! And it bolsters our sense of connectedness, collectedness and collaboration!
I love that when someone gives their life to Christ that we have a way to celebrate that decision through candle lighting and the singing of “Look What the Lord Has Done!” In the past seven years we have had 152 people give their lives to Christ. That is good stuff and is worth celebrating. When people get baptized and you all hoot and holler and clap, it gives me goose bumps! We have gone from an average attendance of 125 to over 400. That ought to be celebrated. We are debt free. That ought to be celebrated! We are taking in money for our building fund to build down the road, and it hasn’t hampered our regular giving! That ought to be celebrated. We just received a wonderful new children’s pastor. That ought to be celebrated. The first Sunday in April we are going to have a ground breaking ceremony on the Acres at 2 p.m. because with the Lord’s help WE ARE breaking ground to develop the site the week of April 21st. That ought to be celebrated! (By the way, if any of you want to give 100,000.00 this would be a good time to do so! J If you want to loan us that much or more this would also be a good time to do so!)
I love that all of our worship services contain an element of celebration! Every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection. That is certainly cause for celebration!
I believe the act of celebration of something wholesome or something victorious is a spiritual expression and it builds up the Body of Christ.
A win for you is a win for me and a win for Christ’s Kingdom when we celebrate it.
Let’s rate TVCOG right now. How are we doing as a Christ Community? Better yet, let’s rate ourselves. Do we value our collectedness? Do we see how special it is that Jesus has given us birth into His community through His Spirit?
On a scale of 1 to 10:
How committed is each of us to being Christ on earth?
Have we availed ourselves personally to the collaborative effort?
Are we involved in caring for the needs represented in our church and community?
Are we open to correction and are we looking out for those who might be straying?
Are we jealous of the victories in other people’s lives or are we adding to their celebration by celebrating with them?
I believe every one of these Christ Community characteristics in one way or another would be attractive to people on the outside looking in. How NT can we get? How much can we look like the first century church? How much can you and I look like Jesus here on earth as we live out that goal in a Christ Community?