Long Story Short: Church

Good morning and Welcome to Journey.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here and it’s always my pleasure to speak with you about what God is like.  We started Journey about nine years ago with the intent of helping people who are new to the faith journey discover the real Jesus.  Because we feel that once you discover the real Jesus you will find him irresistible.

You know – for those of you who are attending church for the first time today, I’m so excited you are here.  I remember the first time I went to church.  I was in middle school and I went with my mom to a church with a weird name – Simpson Memorial Church.  Weird right?  Who would go to a church with a weird name.

We sat in and the guy said pick up your hymnal and we’ll sing hymn number 23 How great thou Art.  And we’ll sing the 1,2 and last.  I looked around like, What are these people talking about.  Just the Ladies on the third.

But two things happened that morning – I heard that there was a God who knew me and loved me so much that he would have died for me if I were the only person to ever have placed my faith in him.  He loved me that much.  And that blew the doors off my image of God as being a hard driving, disappointed, impossible to please, tyrant.  That was the beginning of my journey to discovering the real Jesus.

The second thing that happened was that I was loved and accepted by a group of people – they loved me how I was and for who I was and I’m still friends to this day with so many people that God used to help me feel his love for me.  And I’m eternally grateful and my hope is that you too would have a similar experience to mine here at Journey Church.  We started Journey for you.

I bring this up because today we are talking about the church.  We are in week five of a six week series we are calling a Long Story Short.  And so we are condensing the story of the Bible into six weeks.  We learned that the Bible is one book – written by one capital A author, with one story about one man – named Jesus, and how he came to rescue the world.

Week one we learned that a loving God created everything out of nothing.  We are not cosmic dust bunnies that accumulated over time in the corner of the universe until out popped you.

The second week we looked at how the world got to be as jacked up as it is – and basically it’s because Adam and Eve sang God a song called “I’ll do it my way.” And so they broke off the partnership with God and proceeded to instill all of mankind with a basic selfishness and sinfulness that is common in every era on the timeline of humanity.  We are not basically good people.  We are mired in the calamity of selfishness.

Week three we talked about God’s efforts to repair and recreate a partnership with mankind and last week we traced God’s promise to deliver a savior of the world to us – and He came in the form of Jesus, God in the flesh, the lamb of God who died to take away the sins of the world and to repair our broken relationship with God.

Jesus said he came to deliver good news – and the good news is that through faith in Jesus, the gates to the kingdom of heaven have been thrown wide open.  Whosoever will, may transfer from the domain of darkness – the dog eat dog world we were born into by default – and begin a new life as a new kind of human being in the Kingdom of Heaven – where we are promised that God will be with us – whether in the valley or the green meadow.

He will be our God and we will be his people.  That’s the bottom line of the Bible.  The extent that God went through to make it possible for him to be our God and for us to be his people.  This is the story of the Bible.  It’s a love story, really.  God loves us, and invites us to love him as well.

We will pick up the story today in the book of Acts.  If you opened the bible you’d see it’s broken into two sections – the old and new testament.  Old is everything from creation up until the birth of Jesus.  New is from the birth of Jesus and into the future when he comes back again someday.

The first four books of the New Testament are Matthew Mark Luke and John and they details the life and ministry of Jesus.  Then we come to the book of Acts – which is a history book really.  It’s the story of how the good news of Jesus traveled from Jerusalem – the center of Judaism – to Rome – the center of the then known world.

If you read the book of Acts you might be tempted to think it’s the story of Peter and Paul – who are two early church leaders who dominate the narrative.  But the real star of the book of Acts is the message of Jesus – the good news – which is also called the gospel.

The book of Acts is also the story of the birth of the church.  And so today I want to talk about the church and it’s purpose.  We’ll begin in Acts chapter 2.

On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place.

Okay -Pentecost was a Jewish festival celebrating the first fruits of the wheat harvest and it was celebrated 50 days after Passover, and since the bible tells us that Jesus was crucified during Passover, we know it’s 50 days after the crucifixion.

Acts chapter 1 tells us that Jesus appeared many times to the disciples in the initial 40 days after his death.  And so Jesus instructs his followers to wait in Jerusalem until the Father sends them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

So in the meantime – God fearing Jews and non-Jewish followers of God are coming from all over the known world to celebrate the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem.

Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

And so here is the introduction of the Holy Spirit into the lives of those who have placed their faith in Jesus.  And I guess I’d start by saying – the birth of the church was a supernatural event.  It wasn’t a group of people getting together to form committees and file paperwork to become a 501c3 tax exempt organization.  No – the holy Spirit, who is God himself – explodes onto the scene and the church is birthed in power, bathed in power.  And that hasn’t changed.

This place is not just a group of people who decided to meet in a church.  This church is a supernatural event.  God is in the place because God is in everyone who places his or her faith in Jesus through the person of the Holy Spirit.

What does it mean that the Holy Spirit now resides within us?  Well, up to this point in history it seems like God dwells in Jerusalem, in a temple, right?

See – the reason there were God fearing people from all over the world congregating in Jerusalem, was because they wanted to go to the temple and make an offering.  Because, in essence, that’s where God lived.

In fact – the temple was sectioned off.  And there was the place where you made your offering, but there was a curtain that separated the sacrificing part of the temple – from the Holy of Holies.  And behind the temple was the ark of the covenant – and inside the ark was some manna and the ten commandments and Aaron’s rod.  and the idea was that was like, God’s room.  No one went back there except the chief priest one time a year to make an offering on behalf of the nation.

Well, an interesting thing happens when Jesus dies on the cross.  Matthew 27:51 tells us that at that moment of Jesus death, the curtain was torn in half from the top down.  Now it’s clear what that symbolizes. right?  God was busting loose of the temple!

Where does God now reside?  The Apostle Paul writes  Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?  1 Corinthians 3:16

Not only does God walk with you, but the teaching of the Bible is that God dwells INSIDE of you, once you place your faith in Jesus.

So in Acts, the believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and we’d have to say it was unusual.  We don’t see this type of scenario again in the bible – but in this case – there was what appeared to be visible demonstration of the presence of God – in fire and smoke and sound.  It must have been quite an experience.

And – along with this is a very interesting event – the people who are in the room begin speaking a language they never learned.  It was automatically downloaded.  And they began speaking in the native languages of the god fearing people from all the nations who had gathered together.  Can you imagine standing up and all of a sudden you can speak fluent mandarin?

Pretty brilliant, by the way of God to set this up.  He sets up a system where people all travel and gather together in Jerusalem and in one day the church is able to preach the good news of the wildly accessible Kingdom of God through faith in Jesus.

And so – here we have people from Africa, Asia, Europe – and the Middle East – 15 different language groups were mentioned –

And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

It means God wants you to hear the good news.  And in this case he went to miraculous ways to do it.

Perhaps you are here this morning and you are thinking, it’s almost a miracle that I’m sitting in here – a year ago I never would have imagined sitting in a church.  Well, God has never stopped working to get the good news into the ears of people He knows are ready to hear it.

See – here we see the kindness of God – announcing the good news through regular human beings – in a language they can understand – And the result is really interesting – all these people leave and go back to their homeland and they bring with them the news of Jesus.

And so we find later in Acts the Apostle Paul walking into a town and he begins to preach about Jesus and the people say – yeah we’ve already heard all about him.  Why?  God was preparing their hearts to be able to receive the good news.  That through faith in Jesus our walk with God is repaired and restored.  And 3000 people placed their faith in Jesus that day.  And the church is born.

And the church continues today.  What is the church?  It’s you.  You are the church. It’s a people.  It’s anyone on earth, in any nation or language or culture who says, Jesus is my savior.  God is my God and I am his people.

If you have placed your faith in Jesus, then YOU are the church.  The church is not an organization.  In fact Jesus came to free us from the chokehold of organized religion and free us into a walk with Him.  He is our God and we are his people.

And listen, the church isn’t a building either.  We hope to build a building in a the coming few years that will be the home of Journey church for generations to come.  We are excited about that and thankful for all of you who are supporting that project.

But that’s not the church.  You are the church.

1 Peter 2:9

…for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

So let’s talk about what the church should look like.  How did it look in the beginning, at it’s birth?  What made it unique?  Listen to this wonderful description of the first church…

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Three words to summarize what the church is about.  Ready?  these aren’t original but they sure summarize a healthy church.  Three components of a healthy church.

The first word is Upward.  The church was God centered.  They read and studied their bibles.  They worshipped and praised God.  They prayed together.  All of these things are upward activities – pointing toward God.  They gathered together weekly.

They spurred one another on in their faith Journey.  They encouraged one another to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

They were intentional about growing in their faith.  The church should be looking upward.

And so, church – are you?  How are you doing in the “Upward” category of tending to your faith?

Are you worshipping?  Praying?  Reading the Bible?  Why not?  How do you think you will grow in your walk with God?  How is the Holy Spirit going to communicate with you if you don’t give yourself the chance to communicate with Him?

What steps are you taking to grow in your faith?  Maybe you need to buy yourself a bible that you understand better?  Buy a study bible – with notes at the bottom of the page that will help you understand what you are reading?

Acts chapter 2 describes a church that from the beginning is upward focused.

We worship.  We pray for our friends.  We take steps to grow.

Secondly – did you notice the inward aspect of the church?  They cared for one another.  They had one another over for a meal.  They gave some of their money away in order to help those who are in need.  They sold possessions!  Did you notice that?

I mean they weren’t giving out of their excess funds.  They were selling their stuff to help one another.  You need help – I’ll sell my couch – and give you the money.  That’s sharing a burden.

One of the things that I love about this church – meaning you all – is that it’s filled with people who are generous and they keep their eyes peeled for opportunities to help.

For instance – I learned this week that one of our church members was in a transition time of her life and moving into an apartment but had little to nothing in order to furnish the apartment.  So one of the ladies decided to throw an apartment warming shower for this young lady who has had to endure alot in her young life.

How’d it go?  I’ll read the email this woman sent me.

In less than 24 hours…

flat screen tv, Blender, Lamp, Quilt, cleaning supplies, Couch, end table, dining table and chairs, pots and pans, silverware, utensils, pillows, dishes, mugs, glasses, toaster

bathroom towels, coffee pot, serving bowls,  several gift certificates

YOU PUT TOGETHER A HOME  in less than 24 hours!!!

And I cried yesterday thinking how much I love Journey and God.

You rock and I’ll fight anybody that says “these people” don’t love Jesus.  

I love you all, what more can I say.

That’s the “inward” component of a church.  That’s one person who saw a need and said, I think I can help.  That’s a church, right there. Being a burden sharer for one another.  Encouraging one another.

Here’s another aspect of the ‘inward focus of a church.  An Inward church is filled with people who are willing to serve.  You know, right now there are dozens of people serving in a Sunday morning ministry role.  Children’s ministry, or hospitality or tearing down the stage, or setting it up on Sunday.  Many of you either serve next hour (or served last hour) somewhere in the church.  That’s inward.

Yesterday we had an entire family – mom dad and all four kids – up here setting up the stage and chairs.  How sweet is that?  And each week another family – mom and dad and all three of their kids – help us tear down.  they walk out when I walk out a little before noon each week.

Oh Phil you are just trying to get us to serve the church, no I’m trying to get you to serve one another – who is the church?  You are the church.  Right?

The bible says that the church is like a body – and we all are a part of the body.  Some people are encouragers – if you are, when was the last time you took a few minutes to write a note to encourage someone?  To let them know you appreciate them, or what they’ve done?

The gifts of the spirit are meant to be used within the church.  If you don’t participate with your gifts then the entire body suffers.

A church is supposed to have an upward, an inward and lastly, and outward dimension to it. 

Outward.  We care about people who aren’t in our church.  We care about our friends and family who think God is a figment of our imagination.  We don’t hold that against them.  But that doesn’t keep us from loving on them.

We are outwardly focused.  It was Jesus who said that he would turn us into the salt and light of the world.  That we would become the kinds of people other people thanked God for.

One of the things I’m so very proud of about Journey is the outward focus you share.

Through hat you have been used by God to begin a network of medical centers and churches in Mali Africa, that serves now more than a 100,000 people?   Amongst a people group who are almost off the grid?  In a nation that is dicey right now?  And yet, some these health centers and churches are staffed by Malians, the ministry continues even though it’s become dangerous to westerners?

Any time I want to talk about the outward focus of a church, I find myself turning to this quote from the ancient historian Eusebius,  who wrote about a about a terrible famine and plague that struck Alexandria.  In 312ad.  He said those that the plague did not kill, the famine was wasting away.  Listen to this quote…

“The zeal and piety of the Christians were obvious to all the heathen.  In this awful adversity they alone gave practical proof of their sympathy and humanity.  All day long some of them tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them.  Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from the famine and distributed bread to them all, so that their deeds were on everyone’s lips and they glorified the God of the Christians.  Such actions convinced them that the Christians alone were pious and truly reverent to God.”

I love reading this because it reminds me that Journey Church is not unique.  It’s the church.  We all are doing what the church has always done.  We worship God.  We love one another.  And when given the opportunity, we give practical proof of our sympathy and humanity.  Upward, Inward, Outward.

We are God’s prized possession.  We are his people.  We are the church.

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