A newspaper reporter and photographer were sent to the office of a successful business man and entrepreneur for the purpose of getting a human interest story of how this man had made his millions. After some pleasantries, the reporter asked, “Tell me, how did you do it? How did you make all of your money? The now multi-millionaire answered, “It is a great story, really. When my wife and I married, we had the essentials. We had a roof over our heads and food for our table, but very little else. Between the two of us, after the bills were paid, we had a single nickel. I took that nickel to the grocery store and bought an apple. I shined it up nicely and then sold it for a dime.” The reporter asked, “What did you do next?” The man answered, “I went back to the grocery store with that dime and bought two more apples. I shined them up and sold them both for twenty-five cents, for a quarter.” The reporter was getting excited. She could just see the next day’s headline. It would read: “Millionaire Gets His Start by Selling Apples.” She excitedly said, “Please, tell me more. What happened next?” The man answered, “My father-in-law passed away and left us twenty million dollars.” Forget the apples, that man was successful because of his family connection! http://www.fumcsheridan.com/sermons/2010/050910
It was all about the connection. Being connected with one another is what I want to talk to you about as we unveil this year’s theme, the “Year of Connection.” Six years ago when Pastor Thom and I started our ministry with you, there would have been several people who could have named every person who showed up on a given Sunday. The church was averaging somewhere between 100 and 120. We all knew each other and many had known each other for years so they knew what people did for a living, what their children were involved in, how long they had come to the church, etc. Now fast-forward six years and many Sundays during the last 3 months we have had over 400 in worship. I don’t think there is anyone who could name everyone in attendance on a given Sunday including myself.
If we are not intentional and careful it will become easy for someone to come, attend for a while, stay disconnected from the rest of the body except for a Sunday morning handshake, and drift away unnoticed. If we are not intentional and careful it will become easy for someone to come in looking for a place to belong and share their gifts and talents and yet possibly never connect and feel like an outsider only to drift away feeling alone. If we are not intentional and careful it will become easy for people to come in, sit down, experience God through worship and the Word and yet leave broken and unchanged because they were the kind of people that needed the encouragement of friendship in order to respond to what God was saying. During 2013 we are going to be launching a series of small groups. Some will be Bible studies. Some will be potluck dinner groups. Some might be exercise groups. Some may even be Church of God poker groups J! That would be “ROOK” playing groups. Some groups will meet weekly for six weeks. Some will meet weekly for 12 weeks. Some might meet weekly for the year. Some might just meet monthly. And you guessed it. We want you to join one. My hope is that during the course of this year everyone will attend at least one small group even if it is just for six weeks.
God’s design is not merely that we get together, but that we grow together in a Christian community and our togetherness will become a resting place for the power of God which will become the catalyst for the transformation of our community. Now who doesn’t want to sign up for that? Let me show you why that statement is true. Turn to Acts 2:42-47. The recipe for growing in Christ together and for seeing our community transformed is found there. This is how the early church experienced growth and transformation:
“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.”
“They devoted themselves.” Love that word, “devoted.” The start of a new year is a great time to devote ourselves to something. Don’t we all want to be part of a cause greater than ourselves? Don’t we all want to be connected to something positive? Something that will enable us to contribute to make life better for others and to something that will encourage us as well? The early Christians were “devoted.” They were on purpose doing the things described in this passage. It wasn’t haphazard. It wasn’t on again, off again. They were in it for real. How did this devotion play out? It played out through their connection with God and one another.
They were connected to each other through the Word of God.
Verse 42 of Acts 2 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” What were the apostles teaching? They were teaching the words of Jesus and were teaching the Scriptures in light of Jesus’ coming. Can you imagine what those early Bible studies would have been like? The Apostles had just spent three years with Jesus, the Master Teacher, and now they were sharing all of that information they had obtained firsthand. They knew the details. They remembered the tenderness or conviction with which Jesus said what He said. I can just hear Peter saying, “Well after Jesus empowered me to walk on the water, He taught us about how we would always be able to do the impossible through faith.”
The Word of God is to be the centerpiece of our lives. While a relationship with Jesus is Supreme, it is the Word of God which will order our daily steps. It is the Word of God that is the primary way God speaks to us today. Early church Christians wanted to get together to study and discuss the Word. They gained something by regularly studying God’s Word together that kept them coming back for more. Paul didn’t have to beg anyone to be in his small group or Sunday School class. He had to keep getting out more chairs. Early church leaders didn’t post Bible study times and hope enough people filled out their interest on their blue cards so that they could actually have more than one group. It was contagious. People craved that kind of connection with each other.
Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another.” Do you want to be sharp in the things of God? Do you want to avoid being spiritually dull? Get connected to other people through the Word of God because they can help speak truth into your life. They can see something in the Scriptures you might miss.
It is powerful when we gather around the table of God’s Word on Sundays. I love to hear that conversations take place later about what has been shared in the sermon. Parents, I encourage you to go home today and ask your teenager what they learned from today’s message. I’ve even messaged some of your teens myself on Facebook to ask them that question, and it is neat to get a conversation started with them about the Word of God. Dialoguing over the Word is the best way to grow.
Even more powerful is that smaller group experience like some of the men have on Wednesday nights or like those have who come to Sunday School where there is a back and forth conversation about the Scriptures. There is no lack of opportunities to talk sports around the lunch room in your office building. There isn’t a shortage of opportunities to discuss politics and banter back and forth. But spiritual conversations are too few and far between. Sunday sermons aren’t enough. I venture to say there has been more conversation regarding the airing of the new MTV show “Buck Wild” than there has been about the Word of God in most of our circles since Thursday. BUT that’s a topic for another day! J
Listen to what Paul says to the Corinthian church: 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly–mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?
He was basically saying, “You haven’t grown up enough in the Word for me to talk to you on a spiritual level. And since you haven’t gotten to the meat of the Word in your pursuit of it, you are still acting worldly. You are still acting like the rest of the culture.” If you would get into the Word, the Word will get into you and you won’t act like the world!
One way to see transformation in our homes which will trickle into our schools, workplaces and the rest of our community is to gather again in our homes as families and in groups to study the Word of God and let it move us, challenge us, and change us. And there is “safety in numbers.” There is “courage in numbers.” Let me explain. If we are studying the Word of God with a group of people and we all agree on certain ways to live, certain ways to parent, certain values and morals that we won’t compromise our kids won’t all be able to say, “Well everyone else lets their kids do a, b, and c!” When we grow as a Body of Christ around the Word of God we will begin to think more like Christ which means we will think more alike. We will be able to support one another’s efforts to be true to the Word of God.
When the Bible says there shouldn’t even be a hint of sexual immortality among God’s people, (Ephesians 5:3) if we subscribe to that in a communal or group way, we’ll be able to support one another’s efforts to keep our kids from dressing provocatively, and to keep them from listening to and watching sexually suggestive garbage.
Back to the early church. . . They were connected to each other also through fellowship. Verse 42 says, ““42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread . . . Skip to the second part of verse 46, “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Now when was the last time you shared a meal with someone from this church (someone other than one of your relatives) and at the end of the meal you said, “I am sincerely glad that we got together, and I mean it with all my heart?” I mean really?
We all know church potlucks are tasty, but these people had more than their stomachs in their fellowship pursuit. Their hearts were in it! They wanted to be together. They wanted to know who they were going to church with. God was adding to their number daily . . . We haven’t added people daily to our fellowship, but we’ve added a lot. There are lots of know people to get to know. The early Christians were determined they were going to learn everyone’s names. They were going to know everyone’s stories. They were going to keep up with the growth through fellowship and were glad to do it. It wasn’t a burden to meet together.
Notice, fellowship is listed second in the list of the things they were devoted to. Christian fellowship is supposed to be a regular part of a Christian’s growth experience. In fact, prayer is listed after fellowship. I am going to go out on a limb and say that Christian fellowship has become a spiritual discipline. Why? Because it helps Christ be formed in us, and most of us don’t make it a regular habit. “Disciplines” are those things we have to insert into our lives because they are good for us and we have to do them on purpose because they aren’t easy or natural. But because they are spiritual we make the effort. Perhaps their fellowship is what led to prayer together since prayer was listed third. The more you know about someone through fellowship, the more you can effectively pray for them. Makes sense to me.
Now, the word “fellowship” with the definite article “the” in front of it, “THE FELLOWSHIP” meant it was a very specific kind of fellowship. The Greek word for “fellowship” used here is “koinonia,” which means a “close mutual association,” a “sharing or participation in each other’s lives.” They didn’t just get together and eat and swap a recipe or two, but they got together to eat for the purpose of knowing one another and for sharing life together. The more we share life together around the centerpiece of God’s Word and through Christian fellowship, the deeper we grow to Christ and each other.
Listen to I John 1:7 “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” What is the light we are to walk in? “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path”, Psalm 119:105. We walk in the Word through fellowship with one another and that helps keep us all connected, this passage implies, to the blood of Jesus which purifies us from all sin.
You want to risk being disconnected from the blood? Stay away from Church and Bible study. Stay away from fellowship with other Christians. Jesus established the church to win the world for Christ, but the other legitimate reason the church exists and that we are commanded to fellowship together is so that none of us is in danger of falling away from the faith.
It becomes easy to slip away and get out of the habit of going to church in a larger church if you are not connected to fellowship through a smaller group of people within the life of the church. In the last six years there have been at least 35 people that I have known of who have just quit attending. They didn’t get mad or upset about anything. They just quit coming, and they aren’t going to church anywhere else. I went after every person and continue to contact people who have gotten out of the habit of coming. No one is going to just drift away on my watch with God as my helper. I can tell you in almost every scenario that person or that family wasn’t connected to the fellowship of the church. They hadn’t formed meaningful relationships with others inside the church.
That is why we want to spend 2013 helping you get connected with one another. Romans 12:10 says we are to “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” Somewhere through the years that verse has been retranslated in our understanding to mean, “Sit by the same people every Sunday.” Devotion to one another is SO much more than looking at the back of the same person’s head every week.
If you haven’t texted, called, visited, sent a card to, Facebooked, eaten with or prayed for a church member this week outside of Sunday or Wednesday you aren’t connected in fellowship to the people of this church. Harsh, I know! True, you know. You can’t “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” Galatians 6:2, if you don’t know what someone’s burdens are. Just sayin’. J
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25. We should encourage each other to be here more and more and to get together outside of these walls more and more. Come to my house! I’ll teach you a few things about Rook, Rummy or Solitaire Frenzy, and I can promise you I will be sincerely glad you came! J If you want to be part of our Fellowship Team, Conni Caldwell, our Fellowship Director, (show her picture) would love to have you on board!
Third, they were connected to each other through prayer. It is a great concern of mine to hear of church after church that does not have a time of praying at the altars. What battles are won, what hearts are relieved, what healing occurs, what sins are pardoned as we gather around one another at an altar to support them in prayer! Every Wednesday now for two years I have been opening the sanctuary at noon for a half hour of prayer. There are a few who faithfully come every week, and the connection we have is so special. Just offering to pray for someone is so significant, and it will connect you in a dynamic way. There is a spiritual uniting, a spiritual connection that we can’t hold in our hands or fully appreciate when we pray for people.
I learned of a doctor’s son, who suffered a horrible trauma as a Boflex machine fell on him and crushed him. The doctor works with Cathy Parsons, Michele Ball, and Debbie Casto at Thomas Hospital. His son’s name is Luke. As soon as I got that prayer request, I was spiritually connected with Luke and his family in a special way. I prayed for him constantly. I still have never met him. Months after the accident and after spending significant time in Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, he is doing great. I did get to meet Luke’s dad recently, and it was such a joy to shake his hand. I felt like I had already known him. I felt the same way about the Huff family when Winfield student, Jeremy was diagnosed with cancer. I had never met him, and yet I was connected to him through the ministry of prayer.
Several months ago about 80 of us gathered for a prayer walk on Teays Valley Acres, the 74 acres our church owns one mile down the road. We had a spiritual groundbreaking and buried Scriptures on the land and prayed together. It was a bonding moment I will never forget.
When you put a prayer request on your blue card or send an email request, you are giving me and others the opportunity to connect with you through prayer. When groups of people gather in circles before church to pray, you are connecting to God and each other through prayer. Never underestimate this ingredient of prayer. Just as yeast makes dough rise, praying together will make big things happen! Our ability to discern God’s will, understand God’s Word and appropriately care for one another and this community will be in direct proportion to our faithfulness to pray.
Fourth, they were connected to each other through sharing. Look again at verses 44 and 45. 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.” I will say this is a giving church. I don’t know the percentage of people who tithe to this church or who give from time to time, but I do know when we share a need on Facebook or at a meeting, the need gets met. Wouldn’t it be neat to say at the end of 2013 that every family in our church gave time, money or resources to someone in our congregation who had a need? Pass down your kids clothes. Let someone borrow your car. Go fix someone’s leaky sink. Make a meal and take it to someone or run through KFC to drop it off. If you love Jesus then what is yours ought to be available to me if I need it. Of course our focus is also meeting needs in the community, but the Word of God says, “Let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of believers,” Galatians 6:10. We are supposed to look out for each other. When we share we show we care. “I’ll pray for you is a great commitment,” but so also is, “I’ll help you.”
Finally, they were connected to each other through the move of God. Verse 43: “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles” and verse 47 says they were, “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
When was the last time a buddy called you on Sunday night and asked you what you did that day and you replied, “I watched God at work?” Sunday after Sunday God moves in our midst. People respond. We are growing. God is giving us favor with our community. All of that is the miracle and move of God that is uniting us and giving us confidence in Him as we move toward our future of building the community center down the road. Excitement breeds excitement! Miracles breed momentum!
Imagine with me that you are sitting in the arena of your favorite sports team. For our illustration this morning, let’s just say we are all Kentucky Wildcat basketball fans. J So, you are sitting in Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY alright, let’s be neutral. You are at the SEC National Championship game wherever that is held and you are watching Kentucky play. Alright. Whatever! Pick your team, and put them in the final game of some great tournament. It’s a close game, but your team wins at the buzzer! You are thrilled, but as you look around you realize you are the only one seated in the arena. Suddenly, it’s not as exciting to be there. You don’t feel so much like shouting even though you know you want to celebrate your team’s victory.
You see, the move of God is a miracle, for sure. But there is something special about experiencing it together. If you aren’t connected here . . . if you can come and go or just come once in a while, you are going to miss out on a winning shot, a salvation or rededication, a divine healing and miss out on getting to celebrate so many victories. The early church had win after win after win and their being together gave God a resting place for His power. It gave God a platform to demonstrate Who He was, and only those who were part of it got to celebrate.
This is the year to make a greater commitment than ever before to the Lord through this particular ministry. This is the year to do more than say you are a part of this church. This is the year for you to invest in relationship with other believers here in an effort to grow in Christ and see this community transformed by the power of God. This isn’t the year to stay comfortable. This is the year to get connected.