Laying out the Welcome Mat for God

Read at beginning of service:

1 John 1:1-10 (NIV)

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But 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. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

INTRODUCTION


Acts 2:38-47 (NIV)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. 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.

I want to ask you a question this morning. Have you ever found yourself somewhere where you don?t feel welcome? You know, maybe you walk into a room filled with strangers and there?s this invisible yet perceptible barrier that makes you squirm and gives you the urge to run. Or maybe it?s when you walk over to a group of people talking and it seems that you?re invisible. No one even acknowledges that you are there. Maybe some of you have never had this feeling ? I know I have.

There were times growing up where I would find myself in situations where I felt very unwelcome. I remember when I was on a Grade Eight trip to Ottawa. This was a trip that I had been looking forward to all year long. I was going on an adventure with friends. Sure, it?s supposed to be educational ?but there would be time for fun. But something happened on the bus trip down. To be honest, to this day I don?t know why (or maybe I can?t remember why) but I do remember that as I went to sit with my friends and “fit in” with the group I suddenly felt “unwelcome”. All of a sudden I was the butt of jokes and when I went to join them in the different fun antics they did in the hotel and on our educational experiences it was obvious that they didn?t want me hanging around. The feeling at that time was horrible. The feeling that I was unwelcome ? not strangers, but friends! Needless to say, the trip to Ottawa went down as one of the worst experiences of my life. But as I look back now, I laugh at some of the things that happened to me and I?m thankful for the lesson I learned through it. The lesson I learned was just how awful it is to feel unwelcome, not wanted.

Now I?d like to change tact a little bit. How welcome is God in this church, in your life, in your family. You know, I think sometimes, we often emphasize how much we want God to be with us ? healing us, protecting us, giving us warm fuzzies, blessing us financially, answering prayer ? but we can forget sometimes how much God wants us to be with Him!

We lay out the welcome mat at church (homes, lives) for God ? but are we laying it out for his blessings, his power, his grace, his mercy, his majesty alone? Or are we laying out the welcome for God, for Jesus Christ, for the Holy Spirit ? for His presence? Is God welcome or just the blessings? Or is anything to do with God welcome at all?

The book of Acts, written by Luke, is a history book of the early church. By the time we get to our text, Jesus has been crucified and resurrected. He has appeared to the disciples in the upper room. A group of 120 people form the nucleus of the church, Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost and three thousand are saved and baptized.

It is often talked about how important it is to be friendly and welcome newcomers to church. We want to make the right impression. And I?m not going to knock that this morning. But what I?d like to point out is that if we?re more concerned with making the right impression and welcoming newcomers than we are with God then we?ve got things backwards. Those who lay out the welcome mat for God will soon find that the newcomers are coming to your church not because it?s super friendly ? but because God has found a place where He is welcome and has decided to drop in. And when God drops in ? as you see in the book of Acts ? there are signs and wonders, there are healings, there are miracles, not because they were sought after but because God was sought after!

Let me ask you a question. Do you want to be a part of a church that welcome?s God, that welcomes Jesus, that welcomes the Holy Spirit? This morning let us examine the text and discover how the church of Christ lays out the welcome mat for God and experiences his blessings.

a love for God?s Word

The beginning of verse 42 tells us that the early church was “devoted to the apostle?s teaching”. In other words they were listening to what the apostles were saying and soaking it in.

What was the teaching of the apostles?

Let?s remember that the New Testament was not written at this time. The apostles taught from the Old Testament Scriptures and showed how they pointed to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They also taught from the teachings of Jesus that they had learned first hand.

The majority of these new believers were Jewish by birth. Now that God opened their eyes they saw the scriptures as something more than just a set of rules and regulations, more than a history book about their people, but a living and relevant book that could transform their lives.

In a book called, When God Builds A Church, by Bob Russell, pastor of the Southeast Church in Louisville, Ky., he tells about a special staff meeting that he called as they prepared to move into their new church building.

He asked his staff to meet him at the new building. When everyone arrived, hard hats, magic markers, and Bibles were passed out. He then instructed his staff to go to the classrooms and offices in the building where they would be working and write scripture verses on the concrete floors.

Pastor Russell told them, “Someday soon the scriptures will be covered with carpet. But I hope you will always remember what you have written today. And what we do today will be a visible reminder that we are always to stand on God?s Word.”

The staff really got into it. Some of them found some spray paint and began using it so the words would show up better.

Those in the children?s ministry wrote things like, “Let the little children come unto me?for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

In the education wing, the adult education ministers wrote, “Study to show yourself approved unto God?”

In the music practice rooms the music minister wrote, “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.”

In the pastor?s offices they wrote: “Preach the word in season and out of season.”

One single lady in the children?s ministry wrote her favorite verse on the floor of her office, “It is not good for a man to be alone.”

The scriptures-on-the-floor idea caught on and soon hundreds of church members followed suit. In a matter of weeks, there were scriptures all over the concrete floors-down the hallways, on the stairways, and on the steps leading up to the pulpit.

Pastor Russell went on to comment: “I believe the greatest reason God has chosen to bless Southeast Church and thousands of other churches around the world is that we have been serious about upholding the absolute truth of God?s Word.” (quoted in “The Church God Will Bless“, a sermon by Tom Dooley)

Friends, when a church is devoted to learning, teaching, preaching and sharing the scriptures ? the church is laying out the welcome mat for Him. Why, because in doing so, people are saying, “I want to know you God.”

fellowship

Verse 42 not only says that the early church were devoted to the apostle?s teaching but also to the “fellowship”.

Verse 42 says that they continued steadfastly in? “fellowship.”

The term “fellowship” comes from the Greek word “koinonia.” It literally means to “share something in common.”

In the church there are old and young, wealthy and poor, healthy and disabled, black and white, baby Christians and mature believers. In spite of all of that diversity God?s people can enjoy the rich fellowship.

Why, because of what we share in common.

We share a common commitment to Jesus Christ. He is our Savior and Lord.

We share a common lifestyle. We walk in the light and have fellowship one with another?


1 John 1:3-7 (NIV)3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But 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.

We share a common goal?. To magnify and glorify Jesus in all that we do.

We share a common sacrifice. We chosen not to love the world and we have decided to please our Savior.

The Lord?s twelve disciples were quite a diverse bunch. Simon the Zealot was a patriot, a redneck of sorts that hated the Roman government. Matthew was a tax collector, a co-conspirator with the Roman government. (That would be kind of like having Day and Jean Chretien on the same committee!) Thomas and Peter were opposites too. Peter was impulsive and often fickle. Thomas was a thinker, slow to respond, but deeply committed.

I am sure that the different personalities clashed, but there was a fellowship. Jesus united them. They eventually would learn to check their egos and serve one another.

Fellowship is intended to bind us together in love.

Look back again at our text and note how that fellowship was expressed.

Acts 2:44-45 (NIV)

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.

True fellowship fulfills the great expectation of Jesus for his disciples.

John 13:34-35 (NIV)

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

There is nothing that makes God feel more welcome than when this kind of love, this kind of unity, this kind of fellowship exists among people. So we are laying out the welcome mat for God when we love His Word found in the Scriptures, when we promote fellowship amongst each other and thirdly when we?

worship

Our text says that the early church devoted themselves to the “breaking of bread”. Later on Verses 46-47a expand upon this observation,


Acts 2:46-47 (NIV)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.

The reference to them “breaking bread” tells us that their times of worship included the celebration of the Lord?s Supper. They gathered together to focus their attention upon the Lord and what He had done for them in providing salvation.

The 21st century church I fear has lost sight of what worship is to be about. We are often guilty of evaluating a worship service as if it were a performance that needs to be rated. In our minds are thoughts like: “I don?t think I like that son so and so sang. I thought the sermon today was about a six on a scale of ten.” If fear that we see those who are up front as the ones who are worshiping and the rest of us are watching them worship.

If you?re curious about catching a peak at what worship is about. Take a glimpse at a pep rally for a sports team?

Several years ago, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks did a comedy skit called the “2013 Year Old Man”. In the skit, Reiner interviews Brooks, who is the old gentleman. At one point, Reiner asks the old man, “Did you always believe in the Lord?”

Brooks replied: “No. We had a guy in our village named Phil, and for a time we worshiped him.”

Reiner: You worshiped a guy named Phil? Why?

Brooks: Because he was big, and mean, and he could break you in two with his bare hands!

Riener: Did you have prayers?

Brooks: Yes, would you like to hear one? “O Phil, please don?t be mean, and hurt us, or break us in two with your bare hands.”

Reiner: So when did you start worshiping the Lord?

Brooks: Well, one day a big thunderstorm came up, and a lightning bolt hit Phil. We gathered around and saw that he was dead. Then we said to one another, “There?s somethin? bigger than Phil!” (quoted on SermonIllustrations.com HUMOR: FALSE PROPHETS AND MESSIAHS)

Everybody in the world worships something ? or someone. Even those who claim they don?t are probably only saying that because they worship themselves! The point is. There is someone bigger. And God deserves, demands, and desires our worship! He desires the hearts of men turned to Him with the cry of, “Glory to God in the Highest! Who is worthy of our worship!” The purpose of worship is not to please us! But to please God!!!!

The scriptures urge us to “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name?” and friends when you do that, when you begin to focus on showing appreciation and love to God, you are worshipping Him.

I firmly believe that it is true worship that not only sets out the welcome mat for God but opens the doors of heaven to usher in His glory. For worship is the best way of saying “God, Jesus, Holy Spirit ? YOU ARE WELCOME HERE ? PLEASE DO COME IN!!”

prayer

Last but not least, verse 42 tells us that the first church was marked by a devotion to prayer.

A businessman in a small town that had historically been “dry” revealed his plans to open a tavern. A group of Christians from a local church were concerned and planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene. Shortly thereafter lightening struck the bar and it burned to the ground. The owner brought a law suit against the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible. The church hired an attorney to argue in court that they were not responsible for the man?s propery being destroyed.

The presiding judge after his initial review of the case stated, “no matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not.” (quoted in “The Church God Will Bless“, a sermon by Tom Dooley)

The early church believed in prayer.

Prayer was a critical component in the health of the church in Jerusalem. They gathered together each day to seek the will and direction of the Lord.

If any church wants to set out the welcome mat for God it must prioritize prayer.

In the last couple of weeks the state of California has been facing a crisis. Power outages and blackouts have been daily occurrences leaving hundreds of thousands of residences, factories and offices without electricity. In fact, if you are following the news you will notice that the United States is entering into an energy crisis and if nothing is done soon to alleviate the growing demand for hydro, all of America could begin facing rotating blackouts. Just this week I was reminded of the dependence we have on power when the power went out for about 21/2 hours on Thursday (I think) morning.

The problem however is not that the power does not exist. The problem is that the Power Companies do not have the financial resources to access that power.

Friend there need never be a power outage in the church.

Through prayer we can touch heaven and access all that we need.

Ephesians 2:20-21 reminds us that our Lord is able to do more for us than what we could ask or think?.

Ephesians 2:20-21 (NIV)

20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

James Montgomery Boice tells of Lawrence of Arabia visiting Paris after World War I with some Arab friends. He showed them around Paris, but what fascinated them most was the faucet in their hotel room. They spent hours turning it on and off; they thought it was wonderful. All they had to do was turn the handle, and they could get all the water they wanted. When time came to leave, Lawrence found them in the bathroom trying to detach the faucet. They explained, “It is very dry in Arabia. What we need are faucets. If we have them, we will have all the water we want.” Lawrence had to explain that the effectiveness of the faucets lay in their connection to the pipeline. (quoted in “The Church God Will Bless“, a sermon by Tom Dooley)

Friend there is a pipeline of power. It is available through prayer. Are you connected? You see when you pray you open the channels of communication ? of power between you and God ? in effect you?re not only laying out the welcome mat and opening the door but you are also embracing God!! There is nothing I love more than when I come home from work and my son meets me at the door and gives me a great big hug and begins to tell me about his day in his grammatically incorrect childish sentences! Why ? because I sense the love just flowing from Him and I know that I am welcome home!

CONCLUSION

The verse that stuck out in my mind in this whole passage is found in the last part of verse 47,


Acts 2:47b (NIV)?And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

God brought people to the fledgling church where they were saved. Why did he do this? I believe it was because He knew that He was welcome! Where God is welcomed, there will be an outpouring of His love, his grace, his mercy, his miracles, his majesty that will simply capture the hearts of those witnessing it.

Friends, We need to make God welcome in our church, in our homes, in our lives. I believe that He is just waiting for those who not only will lay out the welcome mat but open the doors of heaven and be reaching for Him with open arms.

Lay out the welcome mat for God.

(Talk about those who feel unwelcomed by God)

(Talk about those who feel unwelcomed by the church)

(Talk about what we can do ? Devote to the scriptures, fellowship, worship, and prayer)

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