Have you ever genuinely wanted to do something, but struggled to go and do it? Maybe you wanted to do it for a time, but then over time that thing you once enjoyed became work, and became so tiring that you just lost all passion and motivation to do it? Have you ever made a commitment to something, and just struggled to see it through? This time of year, it is common to make commitments to better our lives, and maybe more common to laugh and make all the jokes about how the New Year, New Me thing will just fizzle out and not be a truly life changing thing. I mean the idea of the resolution sounds great, but have you ever wondered why it doesn’t fully come together the way you want? How about this, have you ever seen someone so passionate about something that you can tell they truly love it, but one day, they stop doing it, they quit the thing they used to love because it became a drain, or something that now takes from them when it used to give so much life to them? Have you ever stopped and wondered how this happens or why things don’t work out? I think it’s really important to look for answers to questions like that, and I would argue that most of the time, the reason it didn’t work out isn’t because of the public commitment we made to others, or the great inspiring social media posts we made about it, or even our intention that was probably so pure and good as we dove into the commitment in the first place, but the reason it fizzles on us is because something wasn’t right in our hearts, on the inside, and our motives and commitments were probably built around external and imperfect things, rather than a deep desire within us to actually accomplish something we committed to in the first place. You see, if the heart, or motive behind the commitment just wasn’t right going in, it just won’t work. I will give you an example, you have two people who want to get in shape, one of those people tells all their friends they want to get in shape, and asks people to get in shape with them and sets up a 5k race to get in shape for…all good things, but the other person just sets their heart and mind to the idea that they want to be healthy, and live long enough to be a grandfather and enjoy life…in the end which one do you think, sticks with the goal long term? Probably the one who started with motives that weren’t dependent on others or programs or races but their heart for what they do. The motive and their heart are important, and what we set out to do and how we start, will determine how we do and whether we can stick with things in life…or not.
Did you ever notice how often motive and the heart comes up in Scripture? This is why Jesus was always so aware of what was going on deep inside people’s lives and why it’s so important…everything in the heart, and our motives truly matter and will determine how life will play out for us as people. So, as we set out to do things, commit to things, and engage in something it is important to get started the right way, and then stay focused on what got us going in the first place and not all the things that could distract us from what truly matters! If my rallying cry is to get healthy for a longer and healthier life then I don’t get distracted by others wanting me to do what they want, I don’t get distracted if my friend doesn’t feel like going to the gym with me one day, or what other people are doing are saying in general, I stay focused on my goals through my internal motivation. I stay focused on what I got started for and I will stay the course and finally stay the course on stuff.
Well, what if I told you that it really is no different for the church and for church life? There is a not so secret ingredient to church that is often overlooked, it’s what launched the church into existence and what allowed the church to walk through a lot of adversity and challenges through the years…but I would also say that today, while we would all agree that it is needed, it’s often overlooked, ignored, and quite frankly just like we do in life, we get distracted from It and what the true heart and motivation could be that would sustain us. Just as the passion of “New Year New Me”, or something you used to enjoy and love doing fades over time, so can your commitment and passion to God and His body the church…if we don’t have the right start, with the right motives and heart, and if we can’t stay focused on the key to it all…and right now, the world, and the people of it, are screaming at the church to focus on anything and everything but the key ingredient and motive to it all, and in many instances, it’s working, and the North American church isn’t winning these days. So today, we are going to go back to where it all started and look at how and where the church began, and what the true heart and motivator actually is…I will give you a hint, it’s The Holy Spirit and when it strays to other things, well, it won’t work. But before we do, let’s think about where we have been so far.
So going back through the fall we were talking about our value, purpose, and truly answering some deeper questions on the meaning of life and looking at this big idea. Do I matter? That conversation was very important and leads us into this first conversation of 2023, where we ask a similar question of the church…an important question that many are asking themselves right now. What is the point of church? We kicked this off on New Years Day with two important questions. I wanted you to process how you view the church, do you view it as your Spiritual Family as God’s word states it should be? If we did view it as family, I wonder how differently we would treat the church. Then Ken followed that up with a very challenging question. If everyone treated the church the way you did, what would the church look like? Then Ken was back last week to talk to you about how God views the church. How the church IS God’s body and then took us through five very important choices we all must make; do you remember those choices? Choosing to love God, love others, love growing, love serving, and love giving and you as an individual impact God’s body by what you choose to do with those five choices. Now today, we talk about how the church began, and this is important because it shows us the key to the church, the motivation and heart behind all of it and where it started, and quite frankly this should still be as fresh and exciting today as it was then. We can find this in the book of Acts…In the first chapter, we see Jesus heading to heaven, and he explains something to them that will take place after He is gone, now He has told them before that it is better for Him to leave and for the Spirit to come, but that moment is now upon them, and we see this in Acts 1.
Acts 1:4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. NIV
So, there is a lot to process there for sure, but what do we see Jesus saying to them? The Holy Spirit is coming. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes and you will share me with the entire world through that power, that Spirit-filled heart, Jesus gives them the key, the source, the primary focus of the church and was taken to Heaven. The key is the Holy Spirit and in a few days things will really get wild, let’s check it out…
Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. NIV
So the Holy Spirit has arrived in a powerful way, just as Jesus said it would come…they begin talking in different languages that all people could understand, and everyone is amazed, well not everyone some people see them acting so crazy and think they are drunk but Peter stands up and explains there not and then preaches an incredible message and boom, the church is born with thousands coming, finding a new life in Christ! This is the start of the church.
So, can I ask you at the very start what was at the core to the church launching into existence? What started this incredible movement? Was it the latest stance or policy on the latest hot debate in politics? Was it meeting everyone’s specific needs in friendship and community and personal preferences on style of service, etc? Was it going to the important and wealthy of society and trying to make sure they will support whatever the church does next? Was it looking at culture and jumping into the latest trend? No, what was at the very center of it all that made the early church alive and successful? It was the Holy Spirit, as people rally around the idea that Jesus saved their lives, so they now want to help others experience that salvation too. Now did people leave there and just go back to how they always lived their lives, or what? Check out what the Bible tells us here…
Acts 2:36 “So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” 37 Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins, turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to show that you have received forgiveness for your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” 40 Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” 41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. NLT
So, the Holy Spirit explodes onto the scene and people’s hearts are changed, the rallying cry at the center of it all was Jesus Christ, the risen Lord saved us, so we need to help others experience this salvation too. There was no leadership model, no programs, no styles of worship or personal preferences at play, just the Holy Spirit, doing what The Spirit does…now as the numbers grew, systems were put in place that you can read about in Scripture, but I wanted to show you the key, the secret ingredient to the Spiritual Family, is The Holy Spirit. Now from this first incredible moment and the work of the Spirit, we see the early church begin and it’s beautiful, and I want you to see how that church acted…
Acts 2:42 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. NLT
So, this is church in its purest form, right at its start. What is at the very center of it? Well, it’s the Holy Spirit changing lives. What is the rallying cry and focus, salvation through Jesus Christ and making sure everyone knows that amazing good news. Now, when you read this, isn’t this what we all want in our churches? A group of people praying and sharing together. Seeing God do amazing things in our lives and community through us. Sharing everything we have in unity to keep each other healthy and strong. Unity, passion, strength, energy, while sharing Jesus with the world…isn’t this awesome? But can I ask you, if this was the primary focus and it all started with the Holy Spirit and the rallying cry of salvation…shouldn’t it still be? Shouldn’t that still be fresh, exciting, and just as relevant to us today as it was to those first Spiritual Family members? So, what happened? Do we see unity, passion, generosity, and motivation like this in our churches today? Maybe the better question is what does the church today get excited about? Is it in inviting the Spirit in to lead every aspect of us, and rallying around Jesus? Are we devoted to God’s word and prayer? Are we this united and generous, and willing to dive in to help reach those who haven’t yet found Christ? Doesn’t it feel like that was a good idea and a hopeful thought when we found Jesus and were struggling in our personal lives…but today we think, “Yeah but, we have done that, I walked through my challenges, and feel better now, so what else do you got for me here at church? I did the salvation thing already?”
Do you see the issue in this? At the start of this talk we were talking practically about motivation and the heart behind things we do. We see people make commitments like “New Year New Me” and those commitments typically fade over time. Well, I wanted you to see why. We don’t have the right motivation and heart going into them, and or we get distracted from the true motivation along the way. So, we want to get in shape, but we need a friend to do it with us, we feed off each other and it’s good for a little while, but then what happens? Your friend isn’t feeling good, or maybe you want to take a cheat day, and they do too…and next thing you know…back to square one. What happened? You got side-tracked or distracted from what the ultimate goal and meaning of the diet or exercise is! And because we can’t stay focused it fades away…and frankly that is exactly what happens around the church. People start focusing on other things, think of their needs, and over time their passion fades, the unity and generosity disappears and the next thing you know the church is not a Spirit-Led passionate place rallying around Jesus but diving into a lot of things that people think they need, that ironically can only be satisfied in God. All their needs and desires are met as they walk through life with God, allowing the Spirit to lead…but we get distracted, we get side-tracked and the passion fades.
You know over the years at MRC we have dealt with a lot of hurts and heartache as people come, get excited, and then leave…that is a natural part of church but one of the most interesting things to us is why people leave, and as painful as it is to watch this unfold, is as reassuring as it is to see why people leave, because it’s never over the church not moving towards it’s primary mission and function. It’s never over us not being God led and focused on Jesus…it’s always over the other things. There are interesting studies done on why people leave church, and I find it fascinating. Check out this study done by Thomas Rainer with what he found as the top 10 reasons people stop attending church.
- They got out of the habit. (Basically, covid break or nothing painful in their life, so they stop for a while)
- They left after they graduated from high school. (They get some freedom and leave that thing behind)
- They decided they didn’t like the institutional church.
- They were hurt at the church. (Someone did something hurtful or messed up and painful, shocker!)
- They say they couldn’t find a church to meet their needs. (Consumerism)
- They had a need and felt the church didn’t meet it. (The people didn’t come through for me, shocker!)
- They never felt connected in the church. (Very common, but are we willing to step in and engage?)
- They did not give to the church. (Mindset, I’m here to take from the church, not give to it!)
- They left when their pastor left. (Very dangerous to place a human in the spot Christ should be!)
- They moved and never went back to church.
Now here is what is interesting, none of these reasons are internal motivators of the heart. They aren’t about pursuing The Holy Spirit in their lives. They aren’t about the church not equipping and engaging the mission of Christ and rallying around the risen Jesus…it’s all the other stuff. Do you see it? Anytime the heart or motivation is on people, or anything other than God, and The Holy Spirit filling our lives, your needs will never be met, and the church will always be a bit of a drag. The heart and motivation must stay on where it was set from the beginning, or it just will never work for us. Do you agree? Maybe you’re thinking, Sam that is all well and good to say, but we the people of the church still have needs that need met. We need community and are designed by God to have it and the church should provide it. We need others to support us as we walk through tough times, and all that life throws at us and the church should help provide that, we need worship moments, and environments to help us focus on God. We need spiritual leaders and programs and tools that can help us find and grow closer to God…and I would say, I totally agree, and I want to ask you where all of those needs are actually met? Where would every desire that you have be fully satisfied? Where should you go to find it? Well, the answer is it’s all found in God, not any person, program, or thing. The focus of your life, the key to success and finding everything you want in Christ and engaging a true relationship with God that will last and a Spiritual Family long term is found in focusing on God, and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead your life, which would keep your motivation and focus on the fact that you are saved, and others need Jesus too…and in all of that, you find all the other stuff you were looking for! All of your desires are met in God, not in any other way. Let me show you in Scripture what I mean…
So, what did that early church pursue? They pursued the risen Lord Jesus, and allowed the Holy Spirit to lead their lives, and what do we see in the early church?
Acts 2:42 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. NLT
Doesn’t that sound like everything you are asking for in church? Community, unity, friendship, purpose, generosity, support, worship, growth, and goodwill throughout all the people? The irony was they weren’t asking the church to create that, they were asking The Spirit to lead their lives. Do you see it? The church begins with the heart and motivation of salvation and the Holy Spirit and the farther we drift from that the more the church will struggle. Think about what you desire most, in your life, not material stuff, but in the areas that really matter, in your inner world and heart and mind. Shouldn’t the church be able to make that happen for me? And if it doesn’t, is it a failure of the church to not provide the right atmosphere, environment, or culturally relevant topics and events that would allow me to find deep inner healing and peace? Well let’s look at what the Spirit could provide us individually…
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. NIV
So, the product of The Holy Spirit in my life produces this in each individual heart, and a group of people pursuing Christ and inviting The Spirit into their lives would allow us to have all the things we desire from church community, but it happens as we pursue God and allow the Spirit to lead our lives, it doesn’t come through people, programs, or events around a building. Do you see it?
So, what would a church that is led by the Holy Spirit look like? Well, if we look back where the church started we can see a perfect picture of what it should be.
First a church that is led by The Spirit is a group of people who have been saved and restored by Jesus! They are grateful and rally around that! It never gets old, I have been saved, and I want others to be saved as well!
Acts 2:37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. NIV
A church that is led by The Spirit is devoted to God’s word and teaching! What did we see as the Holy Spirit launched the church?
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching NIV
A church that is led by The Spirit is devoted and unified and generous, in a robust and healthy community!
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…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…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. NIV
So, by pursuing The Holy Spirit and rallying around Jesus the early church found this elusive thing called community, friendship, unity, all of it came through their pursuit of God!
A church that is led by The Spirit is devoted to prayer! And I would add that it would believe in prayer and understands the value of prayer!
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. NIV
Are you devoted to prayer? Do you believe that prayer matters? If you believe in prayer, can you imagine what a church filled with praying people could be and do in this community inside and outside of the church? Now I could keep going but I think this is a good place to stop and think this all through. Where are you at with your life? Are you able to lock into the commitments and promises you make in life? Have you ever made a New Years Resolution and just wondered why you couldn’t follow through with it? Have you ever wondered why you used to love something and truly had intentions of sticking it out, but just lost that passion over time? Well, I would challenge you today to not make excuses about why it’s ok that you didn’t, whether that be your personality, or what someone else did that stopped or blocked you, but I would look deeper, in your heart and your motives. If your heart and motives are pursuing the right things, you will stick with what you want to do…if they aren’t, that passion will always fade. Just as it is in a diet, or New Years Resolution, so it is in your spiritual life. When we pursue what is right and good, we gain everything we always want and more. If we make our spiritual life about things other than God in us, well, it most likely will fizzle out just like our latest attempt at a New Years Resolution. Now, to take it a step further, I would say it’s the same thing in church life. If we engage a Spiritual Family in the pursuit of community, friendships, having our needs met, needing a superstar Pastor to be our relationship with God for us, with a “what can the church give or do for me” attitude it won’t work…we won’t find what we are looking for, it will fade out over time because the heart and motive is all wrong, and the irony is if the heart and motive is all wrong, we will never get what we are chasing. But if we pursue the risen Jesus who saved us and pursue The Holy Spirit in our lives we find everything we were looking for and more…and we will stay the course, personally, in relationships, and here in our Spiritual Family. So a couple questions as we close.
- Have you ever wondered why this Christianity thing isn’t working the way you would like? What are you pursuing in it? If it isn’t Jesus and The Spirit led life, you need to realize it probably won’t work out for you.
- Are you frustrated that the church doesn’t meet your needs when it comes to community, and relationships, and different structures you feel are needed for you to even start walking with God? Do you see how this may be backwards and your pursuit of Jesus and The Spirit could lead to all the other things?
- Are you devoted to God’s word?
- Are you devoted to prayer?
- Are you all in and devoted to your Spiritual Family the way that early church was? Do you see what their rallying cry was?
- Are you as passionate today about what Jesus has done for you as the day you found Him?
- Have you ever invited the Holy Spirit into your life? Do you see the product or fruit of the Spirit in your life?
- Have you struggled with church and why it seems to never give you what you want? Does it make sense to continue to look for what you want, or do you see that all of it is found in finding and pursuing God?
Listen, we love you so much, and as we dive into this first conversation of 2023, I felt it important today to not just look at the ideal church we see in Acts that we all desire, but also look at why it may not be coming together the way we would like. People will always disappoint you around church. Pastors, programs and Bible Studies and worship environments are good tools but will never satisfy those deep needs in your heart and soul. All of that is found in a passionate pursuit of God, and allowing The Spirit to lead your life, that is when things get fun for you as an individual, and when a community of believers pursues The Spirit instead of other things, well that is when communities, towns, and the world will change!