INVOLVE

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Church on Fire

INTRODUCTION

Today I’m going to continue the series I started last week entitled “Church On Fire”. As I mentioned, last week, this series has been born out of a time of prayer and seeking God for direction for HPC. The Holy Spirit directed me to the account of the launch of the early church and as I sought God’s insight on the portion of scripture in Acts 2:42-47 there were four verbs that kept going around in my mind in reference to the character of this church.

Last week I shared the first word, INSPIRE. I tried to paint a picture of how Acts 2 church demonstrated this action word in their composition. When studying the Acts 2 church you can’t help but notice that their impact, and influence had direct correlation with the fact they were both inspired by the Holy Spirit and the miracles of God in their midst and inspiring to those not yet a part of the church because of their connection with the Holy Spirit. Inspire is a provocative verb – and indeed INSPIRATION of the church of Acts provoked emotions, and activity wherever it was found. The church did not blend in. The lesson drawn from this picture is that if HPC is to have any impact, influence in our world today (both locally and abroad) we need to be inspiring. And friends the only way we can inspire is by knowing, experiencing, and seeking the infilling of the Holy Spirit. In our pursuit of God’s presence we will be both inspired and inspiring.

Today, I’m going talk about the second action word observed in the life of the Acts 2 church. And that word is “INVOLVE”. Let’s reread Acts 2:42-47 and I’m going to emphasize the particular verses we’re going to zero in on.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47 (NIV)

Now when I first mentioned this action word I’m sure the thought that entered many of your minds was that the Pastor is going to be pleading for more workers for nursery, Sunday School, or other ministries in the church again. Certainly that’s an element of what being involved in the church means…but using the word INVOLVE in this context has a far more fundamental implication.

You see when you look at the early church the word that pops up a lot is the word together. Involve is really another way of saying together. Whatever word you use, you convey the idea that this is not a solo endeavor.

One of the most amazing things to me when I read the Bible – along with the central story of Christ of course – is this remarkable choice of God to involve people in His plan! Throughout history as recorded by scripture – God’s interactions with humankind are most often found in His involvement with and involvement of people.

Noah and the flood

One historic milestone is God’s involvement with Noah and his family in the story of the great flood. (Genesis 7)

Call of Abraham and Special Promises God made to Him

God’s meetings with Abraham are told to us in such manner that we may feel we are part of Abraham’s family circle. We are present when the Lord tells Abraham that in his old age his wife Sarah will give birth to a son. We are there when he negotiates with his nephew Lot at the division of the land, then later when he rescues Lot and his family from Sodom. Genesis covers a period of time that sees Abraham enter into the Promised Land then generations later whose great, great grandson, Joseph, at a young age is sold by his brothers to traders traveling to Egypt.

Joseph

Upon being taken as a slave to Egypt, Joseph became a servant in the Pharaoh’s court. When he refuses to yield to the advances of Potiphar’s wife, he is betrayed and put into prison. Two years later, he is remembered and released when the Pharaoh has two dreams no one can interpret. Joseph has the gift of interpreting dreams. He interprets the Pharaoh’s dreams as a premonition of seven years of plentiful harvest to be followed with seven years of famine. The Pharaoh is impressed and puts Joseph in charge of the nation’s affairs. After seven years of harvest, Egypt and the surrounding countries suffer from seven years of widespread famine.

In due course, Joseph discovers that even his brothers were forced to come to Egypt to buy grain. He recognizes them and puts them through a series of tests. Finally, he identifies himself and arranges for his father, Jacob, and all seventy family members to come and live in Egypt where they settle at Goshen.

Moses

From his miraculous deliverance as a baby from Egyptian executioners to His leading the Israelite people out of slavery to the promised land and everything that happened in between – the story of Moses is a great examples of God’s involvement in human affairs and His choice to involve people in carrying out His plan.

Prophets, Judges and Kings

Through Israel’s history in the promised land the Bible records God working through prophets and judges to accomplish His plan and deliver His instructions. There are also the stories of ordinary people, like Hannah the mother of Samuel, Rahab, Ruth, a widow with jars of oil, Esther, Job and many more that demonstrate God’s choice to involve people in His plan.

The very Word of God is a testimony to God’s involvement of people:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

The church of course is probably one of the best examples of this. Early on in His first visitation to this planet, Jesus established that He was going to once again follow the pattern of involving people in what He did. From the initial choosing of the twelve men who would closely follow Him, and learn from Him, as he traveled through the countryside – to the commission of His followers at His ascension – Christ clearly communicated His desire to be involved in and through the lives of people who believed in Him. In fact, He made clear on several occasions that the only way God’s blessings, and good news will get out and spread is through people willing to be involved and His work through their lives!

Believers, then have this tremendous privilege of being involved in the work God is doing on this planet and more specifically in demonstrating to the world not only the existence of God, the presence of truth, but also the fruit of salvation. In a sense, God intends the church to be a living example of what life in the Kingdom of God is like. If that is so, how do you think the church is doing?

Well, let’s take a look at how the church of Acts demonstrated their understanding of this incredible privilege. INVOLVE describes them because they,

1. CONNECTED closely with God and with each other.

Jesus used many ways of describing this intimate connection God desires with people (this “togetherness”). One of the most beautiful illustrations is that of a vine and branches…

{vine and branches}

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
John 15:5-8 (NIV)

Certainly when you read about the early church in Acts you can see that they grasped this desire of God. It was taught and embraced that the church is not an organization, but is an organism. They understood that it isn’t a building but a body. It is family, not function.

It is a living breathing extension of Christ at work in the world. Paul illustrated this concept by describing the church as a body.

so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
Romans 12:5 (NIV)

And then He goes on to say later that like a body, every part has it’s role. And every part works together to accomplish great things

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NIV)

Reading the first description of the church is insight into this togetherness they lived out. Just count how many times the word “together” is used! In five short verses, “together” is used three times and implied in two other cases.

“devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship(v.42)

“All the believers were together and had everything in common” (v.44)

“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. (v.46)

Indeed, as you read about the Acts 2 Church you can’t help but see the similarities between the level of togetherness described and that which is experienced in healthy, loving families. Is it no wonder then that elsewhere we discover that salvation involves you in the family of God!

For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Matthew 12:50 (NIV)

…because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 8:14-17 (NIV)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–
Ephesians 1:4-5 (NIV)

What is sometimes so casually referenced in Christian conversations today when we talk about our brothers and sisters in Christ – is a reality that the church embraced so fully when it first began. They loved, cared, and were involved in each other’s lives because they literally, and truly saw themselves as family. No racial lines, no lines drawn on social or financial status, or nationality, or intelligence. They were all connected because of faith in and the transforming work of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

Not only was there a recognition of this connection between each other in the early church but also a recognition of involvement and connection with God in His purposes, and actions on earth. They regularly prayed and sought God together. They sought the Baptism and infilling of the Holy Spirit so God would be at work through them in the world. When they came together to make decisions they relied on the guidance and direction of God the Holy Spirit.

Acts 4:23-31 – The believers prayed after Peter and John were released from the Sanhedrin (on trial for preaching about Jesus and the healing of the crippled man)

Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Acts 4:29-31 (NIV)

Acts 12Peter had been arrested and thrown into prison by King Herod.

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
Acts 12:5 (NIV)

God sent an angel to go and get Peter who was sleeping in between two guards who he was chained to. The angel told Peter to get up and as he did the chains fell off (without waking up the guards) then the angel proceeded to lead Peter out of the prison past two more sets of guards without them noticing anything. At first Peter thought he was dreaming but then when the angel suddenly disappeared after leading him a street’s length away from the prison Peter realized what had happened was real.

When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the brothers about this,” he said, and then he left for another place. In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter.
Acts 12:12-18 (NIV)

Acts 13 – Barnabas and Saul sent off

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Acts 13:2-3 (NIV)

Acts 15 – church council at Antioch regarding whether Gentile believers needed to be circumcised and follow other Jewish customs.

In the course of their discussion the church of Jerusalem prayed and sought the direction of God and in the end drafted a letter that opens with these words,

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:
Acts 15:28 (NIV)

And finally, this connection with each other and with God in the church is something that Christ Himself prayed for (as noted in the scripture that was read at the beginning of the service.)

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
John 17:20-23 (NIV)

So INVOLVE describes the early church because they connected closely with God and with each other. However involvement also carries with it not only the idea of connection but also participation. The church of Acts…

2. ENGAGED as participants and encouraged engagement on this level – rather than acting as mere spectators.

While Acts 2 does record people being in awe at the supernatural miracles God accomplished through the apostles – it also records these same people in the church being involved in ministry to each other and to whoever God led them to. When you read the historical account of the beginnings of the church, you can’t help but notice that even though there are certain individuals that God used in mighty ways in advancing His kingdom – those same individuals are very obviously supported by and assisted by the involvement of the church. In other words, when you became a part of the church you weren’t just a spectator but you actively participated in the work God was doing. Participated with each other and participated with God.

I could go over some of the same scriptures I’ve already shared with you and highlight the instances where this observation can be substantiated. In speaking of the church as a body – Paul reinforced the practice of the church where every individual was involved in some form or fashion. There was of course recognition that some people are gifted in areas others are not – some do things that are more visible than others – but there is no doubting that although there may not be equal abilities, and talents and practices in the body Christ – every person’s contribution as they participate is of equal importance. The implication is that God doesn’t want us to spend our time watching what others are doing or even wishing we could do what others do – but instead to participate by using the giftings and talents He’s given us to be involved in His work!!

In various letters to the churches is given the accepted teaching about partnering and participating with God in His work.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
2 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

…and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father–to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
Revelation 1:6 (NIV)

CONCLUSION

Once again the observation of the Acts 2 church leaves us with some tough questions to ask about each one of us individually as well as corporately as a church. How we answer these questions is an indicator of the presence of this action word in our midst.

As an individual –

Do you recognize that God wants you to be involved in His plan?

Do you believe He has gifted you with abilities and talents to partner with Him in accomplishing His work on this planet?

Do you understand and embrace Christ’s desire that you be in unity with a local church family as you partner together to accomplish His work?

Are you involved in the work of HPC? Do you want to be? Have you offered to?

If you are already involved, do you know that your contribution matters?

Do you encourage others who aren’t involved to get involved?

Are you involved in your church families lives? When you know someone is in need, is sick or struggling in some way do you get involved or do you distance yourself and “busy yourself” with other things?

Do you spend more time complaining about others not calling you or visiting you than visiting and calling others yourself?

As a church –

Do we make room for and recognize the partnership God wants with us in impacting our community?

When people join the family of God do we help them get involved in God’s work?

Are we involved in God’s work or are we busy feeding our “pet projects”?

Do we look like an organization or an organism, is the building more important than the body, do we just function or are we a family?

Ultimately, what we learn from the Acts 2 church is that God’s primary vehicle of involvement in the world today is through the church and individuals making up the body of Christ. God always underscored in all of His interactions with humanity the importance of together. Being together with Him and together in His family. I want to close then with a short video that illustrates beautifully the power of together – that is when lives become so involved with each other that “beautiful” happens.

{show video “Together – Team Hoyt” (sermonspice.com)}

Together with God, together with each other, together we run! INVOLVE!

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