Good morning Normandy. As always it is a huge honor to be preaching to you today. Teaching and preaching is always something that I enjoy doing, whether it’s with WakeWell, or at Conferences, or here at church…and I am always honored and humbled to share what God’s doing in my life and teaching me with you guys.
Now for those of you that don’t me or haven't heard me preach before, my name is Mark Heger and I am the Groups Director here at Normandy. For the past 13 years I have led small groups and bible studies, and created relational communities all across the nation. I have led some groups that have failed miserably, and I have led some groups that have flourished and expanded and multiplied. I love leading groups of people and assisting them with their faith. My heart for groups is that people would would not only grow closer to Christ, but also that people would grow closer to each other as they grow closer to Christ. I believe that we were designed for community…that God’s statement of “It is not good for man to be alone.” doesn't just apply to the context of marriage or else He would have said, “It is not good for man to be unmarried.” But God said that it is not good for us to be alone, because when we are alone we are more susceptible to the lies of Satan. I know that there are people here today who are feeling lonely, isolated, divisive, defensive, too busy, to broken to live in close Community…and that breaks my heart and it breaks God heart. Because I believe that everyone has two basic desires in life…two basic desires that drive most if not all of our decision making…and those two desires cannot be met outside of community.
I believe that everyone…regardless of your race, religion, gender, or economic status…everyone desires to be known, and to be loved despite being known. Let me say that again, I believe that everyone on the planet…everyone who has ever existed from the beginning of time…desires to be known…they desire to have intimacy with other people who would know them for their strengths and weaknesses, their successes and the failures, their likes and their dislikes…they desire to be known. And in addition, despite being fully known and being exposed not only for who they are, but also for who they are NOT…all people also desire to be loved. Like REALLY loved. Cared for, celebrated, and encouraged. Loved for who they are and loved enough to call them up to something even higher.
That’s why I believe in relational ministry. Because it shows people that you desire to know them, and you love them even after you know them. And here are Normandy Community Church, one of the best places to see this lived out is in our Normandy Groups. Today I hope to encourage you to come and be both known and loved here at Normandy. But before we dive in, I want to pray for us. So join me as I pray over our time together and then we’ll get started. [Prayer]
So today we are going to be talking about the importance of Community. And in order to do that, we are going to be spending the majority of our time in Acts chapter 2. And the reason that we are going to be looking at Acts 2 is because it’s in that Chapter that we see the origins of the early church and we witness the first believers beginning to live out their faith together. Now while you’re turning there, I want to share a little about my testimony with you. As many of you know, I grew up right here in Lake Highlands, GO CATS, and my parents still live in our same house right around the corner from this church. My father was raised in the Catholic tradition, and he did his best to raise my older sister and I in the Catholic church as well. So when we were very young we attended Sunday school and occasionally went to Sunday mass, but it really never influenced either of us at all. And by the time I was around 7 or 8 years old, we had stopped going to church altogether because we unanimously decided that church was super boring and we would rather go to the lake on the weekends instead of going to church. So that’s exactly what we did. Every weekend we went to the lake and waterskied, wakeboarded, kneeboarded, rode SeaDoos and had tons of fun instead of going to church. And I as you might expect, after putting in a generous amount of time into these watersports, I became pretty good at them and decided that I wanted to pursue a life of wakeboarding! So I began to take wakeboard lessons, and I joined a crew of young riders that were my age, and we began to travel around competing at contests and tournaments together. We were all like-minded, having almost everything in common, and we helped coach each other and push each other and encourage one another…we helped each other as each one needed. We ate meals together, we saw incredible tricks landed and we still to this day share miraculous stories together. We worshiped the sport of wakeboarding together and we even added people into our crew. In many ways we looked more like Acts 2 than most churches. We knew each other and we loved each other. And it was great.
Now keep in mind, that through all of this, I was relatively unchurched growing up. As a kid growing up in Lake Highlands, I wasn’t attending church or youth group…I had no idea who Jesus was…and I certainly didn’t have any relationship with Him. And then, my junior year of high school, I went to Younglife Camp at Frontier Ranch and that is where I met Jesus and for the first time decided that I wanted to follow Him. But I didn't know how to follow Jesus on my own, because I had never done that before. I was a lot like the people in Acts 2! Look at verse 22. Peter is speaking to the Jewish people on the day of Pentecost and giving this great speech, and he says,
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
Then skip down to verse 32…
“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”
And then here is high school Mark after Younglife Camp in verse 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?”
I didn’t know what to do with this new life that I had received. I was use to living a certain way within a certain community of wakeboarders, and now I was finding myself needing guidance, training, teaching on how to live within this new Christian Community. I went to camp, I listened to the messages, and I wanted to take it seriously. Look at verse 40:
“With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
You see me and many of my friends who went to Younglife Camp heard similar versions of Peter’s words that summer, and I believe that many of us were added to the number of new believers that day. But as with many people who hear the gospel and are convinced that it’s a good message, many of my high school friends decided to stay and live their lives in verse 41 without ever crossing over to verse 42.
And I know that there is a large portion of us here today who desire to live in an Acts 2 Community…who would agree living in Community with other believers is not only a good idea, but is necessary to having and maintaining a healthy Christian walk. However, I would also like to recognize that while many of us agree and support an Acts 2 community, there is a large portion of us that are currently stuck between verse 41 and 42. Whether it is something that you have decided not to prioritize, or you have entered into a different stage of life that is less conducive, many of you believe and accepted the gospel, but are not currently living within verse 42.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
I don’t know what it is for you, but something is keeping many of us from being devoted to teaching, to fellowship, to entering into each other’s lives, and gathering for prayer and worship. And again, I’m not here to belittle or demean you. I’m here to encourage you to take that step into verse 42…to be devoted to one another. It’s a rare thing in today’s culture for someone to be devoted to a group of people, which is strange considering how we are more connected to each other now-a-days than ever before. I’m sure you guys have heard the statistics…that as technology has continued to increase and has allowed us to be more connected with more people, people are feeling more lonely, more isolated, less understood, and less cared for than ever before. In an age of constant connection, everyone feels less connected to the other people around them.
And yet, as believers we are suppose to be fighting for unity between us. Isn’t that what Peter Louis talked about last week? Unifying the church through forgiveness and repentance. But forgiveness and repentance is only the start of unification. To be truly unified, we have to be devoted to one another. And to be truly devoted to one another, we have to hang out with each other. Right?
It’s the same thing that Jesus’ prayed for the disciples in John 17…you don’t have to turn there, just look at it on the screen.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Jesus first asks “that they may be one”…that they would be unified just as Jesus and the Father are unified. Well if you think about it, Jesus and the Father didn't just hang out once a week in a room and listen to the Holy Spirit teach on a certain topic within a 4 week series. No! Jesus and the Father were one because they intimately knew each other and had spent time together since before time was created. Jesus is echoing what Peter would eventually say in Acts 2. Be devoted to one another! It was the desire of Jesus that believers would identify more with fellow believers than you would with people of your same race, gender, economic status, political affiliation. Did you catch that? Jesus prayed to the Father, on behalf of you and me, that a man and a woman, someone who is white and someone who black, a liberal democrat and a conservative republican, who are believers would have MORE IN COMMON…would have more unity with each other…than with a non-believer of their same gender, same race, or same political leanings. That’s crazy right?
Then Jesus asks that the same glory that God has given to him, would also be granted to the criminals, the tax collectors, the fisherman, the prostitutes, the shepherds, and anyone else that would believe in him. You see, we have to remember that no matter the make-up of your community, you are all joined together in unity through your closeness in Christ.
And it’s important to remember that Acts 2 wasn’t a perfect community, but simply a devoted one. If you keep reading in Acts you’ll learn about this husband and wife that were a part of the new Christian community who tried to withhold money and God ended up killing them! That doesn't sound like perfect community. Or you’ll read about a group of widows that were starving because of language barriers and possible theological discrepancies…certainly not reasons that people should be starved, right? This community was far from perfect, especially as it grew and expanded, but what remained constant was their devotion to one another. And whenever a problem would arise or a disagreement would happen, the community would come together to find a solution that would allow for everyone to be known and loved and ultimately for more people to be added who could be known and loved.
And that in itself seems pretty simple right? Wouldn’t we all agree that we ultimately want our church, our friend groups, and our families to expand for the sake of the Kingdom. Doesn’t that sounds like a statement that we should all be nodding our heads to? But the funny thing is that so often we don't enjoy living out that reality. Because many of us, IF we were able to reach the level of community seen in Acts 2, and I believe some of us have at certain points in our lives, we would naturally want to protect it. So often I watch Christians try to live in closed communities that desire to benefit themselves and allow them to walk in comfort and security knowing that what they have built for themselves is safe from anyone that might try and wreck it. When we do have good, solid community, we often use it primarily for our own benefit…We guard it. And this is something I’ve been guilty of. “Who here has ever been in a Group that you felt was so awesome that you didn’t want to tell anyone about it?
But according to Acts 2, the Christian community is about having NEW people into your home, at your dinner table, attending your parties. It’s about caring for needs of others. It’s about bringing people out from the fringes and inviting them into an ever expanding family that God adds to daily. Living in an Acts 2 community requires us to open up our lives. A true Acts 2 community is not inwardly focused, but outwardly focused. The goal is not self preservation, the goal is kingdom expansion…to make more room for people who need to be known and loved. There are thousands of people in this city that might never come to a Sunday service, but that will come to you or your friends house to have or discussions about faith with you. We should be tirelessly working toward inviting other in, reaching out into people’s lives, invading their space with the presence of God, and showing them that they have a value and a worth that is able to benefit both the corporate church and them as individuals.
But sharing the gospel with people is hard. When a person hears about some God in heaven, who they can’t see, or this Holy Spirit who lives among us that is invisible, it’s not only hard for us to explain but it’s also hard for them to understand; especially in our culture where we want to see everything in order to believe in it. When you try to share the gospel it can often feel weird and intangible. But when you are living in an Acts 2 community and you invite someone into your life, you can point to your community and show them what the gospel actually produces. You can show someone with physical proof that it is ok to be broken and messed up, and that everyone will still stay devoted to each other. You love one another and work through conflict with each other. Sharing your community gives weight and tangible proof to the gospel you talk about.
Jesus says that he desires for us to be devoted, to be in unity, ultimately SO THAT the world may know God’s love. So that the WORLD MAY KNOW. This is the bridge that connects our need for community and our mission of sharing the gospel. It is necessary for us to be devoted to community so that they world may know. But how do you get this kind of devotion? Where can this type of devotion come from? You have to be reminded of the devotion of Jesus. You think about the fact that Jesus, who had been in perfect unity with the Father since eternity past, surrounded by worshipping angels and sitting on the throne at the right hand of God, decided to leave His place in heaven, take-on flesh and enter the world as a child in order to display his devotion. Then staying devoted, he waited patiently for over 30 years before the time was right to start His ministry. He devoted himself not only to his ministry, but to the temptations, the humiliations, and the persecutions that He would endure. He was eventually betrayed and abandoned by his disciples, the very people that he was unceasingly devoted to throughout his ministry. And showing the fullness of his devotion, he was tortured, crucified, and killed for the sake of bringing glory to the Father…the same glory that He prayed you and I might share. And then three days later, Jesus would raise from the dead, not for His benefit, but for ours. So that we might understand that not even death could stop Him from being devoted to us. So that we might understand the fullness of His love for us. So that we can live in relationship with a God who’s devotion is bigger than the grave, and that we would be willing to share this good news, this gospel, with the people around us.
His devotion to us is the answer for why community is important. Maybe you’ve tried before. Maybe it was too hard. Maybe you’ve gotten out of the rhythm of community and you don’t know how to get back in. Maybe you haven’t wanted to commit in this current lifestage. There are always a number of hurdles to keep you from deeper intimacy. But when you can’t muster up the strength yourself to want to do these things, you must remember how Jesus did these things for you. Because if community was Jesus’ plan for the world to know God’s love, then it is obvious that Satan is going to do everything he can to stop us from being unified in community.
We need to be a people devoted to community. We need to repent and receive forgiveness for all the ways we’ve stayed in verse Acts 2:41, not moving into verse 42 and into the lives of others. It’s messy there, but that is where we see the gospel play out in the most amazing ways!
I believe that it is the will of God for the family of God to be on God’s mission together. All of us need to take one step toward community today…for our own faith and for the future faith of others.