How Great Is Your Commitment?

In evangelical Christianity, we talk a great deal about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We experience Christ’s presence in a very personal way through the Word and in prayer.

If you live in a personal relationship with Christ, do you ever ask yourself how strong is that relationship? I pray this sermon will help you give serious thought to this question.

It was the Sabbath in our text, and the faithful were flocking to their synagogues. Most of the worshipers were expecting the service to be routine. Jesus was present, and he was known as the man who ran the carpenter shop in Nazareth. The rabbi had done his part of the service, and now others could stand up and make their contribution to the worship experience.

The attendant handed Jesus a scroll from the prophet Isaiah, and Jesus read, “The spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor . . . Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus was telling them that it was a new day. He came to preach good news to the poor. He was speaking not just to those who were financially poor, but also those who had a poor outlook for the future. Jesus knew how incapable they were to meet life head-on and face the difficulties that would come upon them.

Jesus would bring good news to those who were spiritual prisoners. Their sins had taken their freedom away. They were spiritually blind and did not know the difference between right and wrong. They would have their spiritual eyes opened and be led by Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

This was the beginning of a new day. Jesus announced that he is the promised Messiah, and his suffering began with their reaction, which started with a mild disbelief and ended with a furious anger leading to an attempt at executing him. They viewed Jesus as a heretic and a false prophet; a dangerous person and had to be killed. That became the conviction of his enemies, and their goal was met when Jesus was crucified at Calvary.

It is at this point that we must ask ourselves how serious is our commitment to Jesus as he presents himself as our only Savior and God. He never would have been sent to the cross if he had only claimed to be a great teacher and a fine moral example.

Many people, even some in our churches who sit in the pew or stand in the pulpit, deny his divinity. Jesus as a great religious leader, is as far as they will go. The rest is irrational.

Jesus’ own people rebelled against the thought that he alone could grant the forgiveness of our sins and assure us of a heavenly home. Though this teaching came from his own lips, it is often not the primary subject being proclaimed on Sunday morning.

Jesus taught us how to live, how to love our enemies. Yet many people, throughout their lifetime, carry hatred against those who have offended them in some way. We sing, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee,” yet we are so busy with life that we have little time to give of our time and talents. Jesus tells us to be his witnesses, and many life a lifetime without seriously talking to others about their relationship with the Lord Jesus.

How great is our commitment?

We all would like to admit that much growth is needed in our commitment to him, but as we examine our lives, we can say with Paul that God is at work in our lives. We have not arrived where we want to be, but we press on. Neither are we satisfied with our commitment to our Savior, but neither are we discouraged for we feel his presence.

Peter had his weak moments. Do you remember that night in Herod’s courtyard when he denied ever knowing Jesus? But a few weeks later this same man was a fearless witness for his Lord. This is how a relationship with Jesus can grow.

We live with him in his Word.

Under Construction: Worship

It’s good to be with you in worship again today. I have to confess to you that I have an addiction: I’m hooked on HGTV. Have you ever watched that channel? It is all about houses Ð buying them, selling them, fixing them up. My favorite program is called “Property Brothers.” In that show, the brothers show people dilapidated houses for sale, then they help them buy the house and turn it into something that is beautiful to behold Ð from the inside out.

When you think about it, the follower of Jesus Christ is like a house under construction. Our dilapidated souls were purchased by the costly blood of Jesus Christ at the cross. Now we belong to him, and our lives are to be built up. God accepts us just the way we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way. He has a blueprint, a picture in mind for each one of us. In Romans, Paul tells us God’s plan is to conform us to the image of His Son Jesus Christ, to make us more like Jesus in our attitudes, our actions, and our words without us having to even think about it. This sermon series is talking about how God does that. We’re using Acts chapter 2 as our stepping-off point to look at that first church after Pentecost.

Last week we talked about how God uses the Word to mold us into something beautiful. Today we see how else He works in us. Our text reads, “They devoted themselves to the . . . breaking of bread and the prayers . . . Day by day they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” It sounds to me like they spent a lot of time together in corporate worship as well as in their homes, breaking the bread (the Lord’s Supper), praying, and praising God. They were a worshiping bunch, and they worshiped with joyful and sincere hearts. It was reverent and full of awe. Their worship was very alive!

So why was worship such an important part of the building plans for these first “under-construction” Christians like it is for us? I’m glad you asked. These early Christians were now disciples of Jesus, and disciples copy the Master. Jesus was a worshiper. In Luke chapter 4 we see Jesus, when He entered His hometown of Nazareth, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. It was His custom. Corporate worship was an important part of the life of Jesus. He was teaching that to His disciples.

Remember when Jesus called His disciples, He said “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” They were in an ongoing building program as they walked with Him, observed the things He did, and copied their Master. Jesus was in worship because He was being obedient to the commandment to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. He knew His Father’s heart and the wisdom behind that commandment. He knew it was not to be looked upon as a great burden for people but as a gift, for we all have a need to worship.

The Sabbath is about corporate worship. We are to stop laboring and start worshiping. It is a maintenance plan for our souls, a time to recharge and get re-energized for the days ahead. You see, Jesus engaged in certain practices that allowed God’s grace to replenishing His Spirit. He prayed, He was in fellowship and solitude, and He went to worship. What was important to the Master must also be important to the disciples.

It was, therefore, a priority of the first church to worship. In Hebrews chapter 10 we see the people who miss worship are chided for it. Down through the ages, worship has been a key component of following Jesus Christ.

Corporate worship is still very vital for us. It is a very big deal! When a person joins our congregation, we ask them to promise to attend worship faithfully, to hear the Word, and to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. When we baptize a child, we ask the parents to promise to bring that child to worship.

What is the big deal about worship? In worship, we give God His worth. It’s all about Him; He’s the audience. The Scriptures define worship as a verb meaning to fall down prostrate. We are surrendering ourselves to God and bringing pleasure to God. It’s all about Him, not about us! The question to ask at the end of a worship service is not what did I get out of it, but what God get out of it? Did He see my love for Him? It is kind of like going to a birthday party where we give a gift, but also receive a treat.

We receive blessings when we come to corporate worship, such as experiencing the presence and power of God as we esteem Him in our praise and our thanks. There is power in joining our voices to praise God.

When we join in corporate worship, we see the big picture as we expound upon the Word of God in our songs and hymns, in the message, the readings, and the Creed. We are reminded that history is His story, everything in this world is headed toward Him, and He holds this world in the palm of His hand. God is in control, and nothing can separate us from His love. That is our hope and our confidence Ð the BIG PICTURE.

In worship we examine our hearts and our lives and do an honest inventory of our sins. We confess them, get cleansed, and receive God’s forgiveness and a fresh start. In worship we are detoxed, so to speak, from the world’s values that we’ve been hearing all week long and can get us all twisted up inside. I once heard someone say that without worship we live manipulated or manipulating.

In worship we taste, touch, and smell Jesus as we come to the Lord’s Supper and receive the body and blood of Jesus, the bread and the wine as someone says to us, “This is the body of Christ given for you; this is the blood of Christ shed for you.” We find power and strength through the Lord’s Supper.

In corporate worship we not only enjoy God’s presence but also the presence of others who believe as we believe, and receive encouragement in that. In corporate worship we are commissioned again and reminded of our purpose as God’s people, saved in Jesus Christ to be a blessing to those around us and bring others to Christ.

That is what happens, and it is what you and I need. Our souls get fatigued and dried up by life’s challenges. We get separated from God, separated from ourselves, and distanced from what we love most about life in creation. It is called soul fatigue, and our souls need rest and replenishment in order to keep growing and maturing. We need to keep getting filled up.

I reminded of D.L. Moody, the great evangelist, who said, “I need to get filled up again and again with the Holy Spirit because my soul leaks.” So does mine. I need to hear the story of God’s great love for me Ð how I was lost and He came after me to rescue me through His Son, Jesus Christ. I need to be reminded not only of His grace, but also of His power, of all God is capable of doing in our world. I need to hear His promise for me Ð even though I die, yet I shall live Ð and, trusting in Jesus Christ, and then be pointed to the cross and empty grave again and again.

I need to be humbled before God. I need to be reminded I’m not God. God is God, and I’m not! I need to be humbled. I also need to see that I am not alone; God is with us and I have brothers and sisters in Christ who are in the same boat with me. We are all going in the same direction; we are heaven bound. I need a chance to respond in thanks, love and action (worship), just as a little child needs the chance to respond to their parent on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

One of my favorite writers is John Ortberg, a wonderful pastor from California. He wrote,”I need to worship because without it I can forget that I have a big God beside me and live in fear. I need to worship because without it I can forget His calling and begin to live in a spirit of self preoccupation. I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on. I need to worship because my natural tendency is toward self-reliance and stubborn independence.”

John Ortberg is describing me! And I will add to that: I need to worship because it brings about fruit bearing in my life as I am recharged to shine for Christ.

At the end of this passage in Acts we read, “And the Lord added to their number daily.” These disciples weren’t just sitting around worshiping. Between worship, they were witnessing. They were glowing for Jesus Christ in their community. Jesus called us to Himself so that we might bear fruit and bring others to Him.

My vision for my congregation as their pastor is that we produce fruit-bearing disciples. It’s part of our mission statement. We do it through small groups and serving, but also, right at the top of that list, through worship. We have four worship services each week Ð all of them different, each with its own flavor Ð in order to make every possible way open for people to come and worship God. We are highly committed to getting people into corporate worship because we know in our heart of hearts that we need to worship if we’re going to grow in our faith.

Christian Crusaders was started with this very priority in mind Ð knowing that there are many who can’t get out of their homes to go to a sanctuary in the community because of health reasons or work or a whole host of other reasons. Christian Crusaders exists so you can have a worship experience each week if you’re unable to get to a local church.

It is a privilege for me to be a part of this ministry. Why? Because every – one – of – us needs to worship if we’re going to grow up in Christ, if we’re going to have God working inside of us, if we’re going to be fruitful in our ministry for Jesus Christ.

That is why I’m so glad you’re listening in to this worship today, participating in the prayer time, and maybe singing along with the songs.

I want to ask you today to make a commitment or renew your commitment to be a weekly worshiper wherever you are on the weekend. Would you do that out of your love for Christ? We need to do it because God deserves it, and you and I need to worship.

Under Construction: The Word

I live in Minnesota where we jokingly say we have just two seasons each year: winter and road construction. Man, do we have a lot of road construction going on around us right now! Winter did a real number on our roads this past year, and a lot of projects are in progress. Construction zones can sometimes drive me crazy when I get stuck in them while trying to get to a destination. They can be an eyesore and a pain. But when that construction is completed, it is wonderful!

Like the Minnesota highways, those of us who trust Jesus Christ are, in a sense, a construction site. When Jesus called the disciples, He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” and then He began discipling them. We are all under construction as followers of Jesus in order that we can be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker, Please be patient with me. God isn’t through with me yet. We are under construction, and so it is good to ask what are the means that God uses to build us up and conform us into the image of His Son?

The answer is to be found in our first reading today. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples waited in Jerusalem in the upper room as He had instructed them. Suddenly the wind blew, tongues like fire burned over their heads, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. They then began to tell the story of Jesus down in the marketplace in various languages. The people were puzzled and wondered what was going on, so Peter spoke up on behalf of them and said, “This is all about Jesus. He’s the Son of God, the Messiah you were waiting for, but you crucified Him.”

The people were struck by this message and asked, “What are we supposed to do now?”

Peter replied, “Repent, believe this Good News and be baptized, and you shall be saved.” So on that day 3,000 people said yes to Jesus and stepped up to be baptized.

Now, imagine the disciples having a conversation with those 3,000 believers after their baptism as they wondered what they were supposed to do next. Someone in the group perhaps said, “Well, Jesus did tell us that He wanted us to go make disciples. Maybe it’s time to start building people up and making them disciples.”

The Bible tells us in Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The word “devoted” simply means a steadfast, single-minded, fidelity to a certain course of action.

They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching. What was the apostles’ teaching? It was the story of Jesus and His teachings about the kingdom of God.

Remember when Jesus rose from the dead? He met those disciples and took them through all of Scripture. He led them on a Bible study showing them how He fulfilled everything that had been spoken of Him in the Old Testament. Likewise, those disciples probably took the people through the Old Testament as well, telling them how Jesus was its fulfillment.

They devoted themselves to the Word of God. They most likely remembered Jesus telling them, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,”

What truth?

The truth about ourselves. We are created in the image of God. He loves us and values us. However, we are also fallen creatures of God. We are sinners and have created a great distance between God and ourselves.

The truth about God. God is a God who loves us, but He is also a God who doesn’t turn His back on sin. It must be punished. So He sent His only begotten Son to pay for our sins at the cross and set us free Ð free from sin, death, and the power of the devil who wants to mess with your life. “If you continue in my word . . .” Jesus said the truth will give you that kind of freedom.

The Word has supernatural power. The Bible is the most important tool God uses to build us up. It is God-breathed, and the Holy Spirit uses it to grow us into something beautiful and good for God’s work and for God’s glory.

Gideons International is built upon this belief in the supernatural power of God’s Word to transform. A Gideon representative recently shared a couple of glorious stories at our church about two individuals whose lives were saved after they picked up a Gideon Bible Ð one in a motel room and the other in a prison. It turned them around and put them on the road to Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul talks of the power and purpose of God’s Word when he writes to Timothy. He is encouraging the young pastor to keep teaching the Word of God. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction so that everyone who belongs to God might be proficient, equipped for every good work” (II Tim. 3:16, 17).

Did you catch that? It is “inspired” by God. Literally, it is God-breathed. It is alive! Martin Luther once said, “The Bible is alive! It speaks to me. It has feet; it runs after me. It has hands; it lays hold of me.” It’s purpose is not simply to enable us to get a good score on an exam that will get us into heaven or to impress others with our knowledge. It is to equip us to be proficient and equipped for every good work for the kingdom of God. Its purpose is to transform us into people from whom goodness flows like an unending stream of refreshing water. Its purpose is to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ.

What I have discovered in my own walk with Jesus is that, as I get into the Word, the Word gets into me. And when the Word gets into me, all kinds of good stuff begins to happen. We get closer to God, we start looking more like Jesus, sounding and acting like Him without even having to think about it. We have an impact on the lives of those around us in a positive way.

Those first Christians got into the Word, and the Word got into them. At the end of Acts chapter 2, it says the Lord added to their number daily. Their testimony, their witness, and their lives reflected the glory and love of Jesus, and others wanted that. The Word can do that in a person’s life.

I love a short story written in 1850 by Nathaniel Hawthorne called “The Great Stone Face.” It is the story of a boy named Ernest who gazed upon a face-like rock formation, which looked over their community. Legend foretold that the greatest and noblest person would look exactly like the formation and would one day show up. Obsessed with this legend, Ernest meditated upon the great stone face each day, until eventually, by the end of the story, he began to reflect the image of the mountain.

So it is with us. The more we gaze upon God’s majesty in Scripture, the more we meditate upon Jesus Christ and obey His truth, the more we become renewed, transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to devote ourselves to the Word? Well, of course, it means going to church and tuning in to programs like this one where you get the Word. But it also has to do with your personal devotional life. I believe there is great benefit in reading Scripture on your own. Develop the habit of doing that.

Some people struggle with trying to read the Bible. I know of people who’ve tried to read their way through the Bible, but when they get to Genesis 5 with all the genealogies, they give up. So how does one get into Scripture?

N.T. Wright, a person I greatly admire, was a wonderful biblical theologian. I came across a film clip where he was asked to read the Bible. He jokingly said, “First of all, read it frequently and read it reflectively.” But then he said, “No, seriously, when we begin to read the Bible, it is important to remember that it was really written not to be read in little segments, but as a whole story.” So his advice was to take one of the Gospels Ð like John Ð and sit down and read it like you’d to read a novel (it will take you about two hours) and just let it overflow. We did that with my men’s group last spring. We read through the Gospel of Mark before we came together for our first sitting, and everyone was very amazed at the things they discovered about Jesus! They’d never just sat down and read a Gospel in one sitting. They enjoyed it!

Wright, also says to then pick a letter from the Bible Ð such as Philippians Ð and read it in one sitting like you would read a letter from someone. Then go back and ask questions of it. Dissect it a bit at a time and reflect on it. That is a way to get started. I encourage you to try it. You will be amazed.

Vernon Grounds, a great radio preacher from years ago, gives five practical suggestions for reading God’s word.

Read God’s Word, first of all, habitually. Make yourself do it every day.

Read God’s Word reflectively. Slow down. The point isn’t to get through the Word, but get the Word through you.

Read it prayerfully. Lord, show me what you want me to see today in our time together in your word.

Read it believingly. Lord, I believe your Word is truth, and it makes my life work.

Read it obediently. I’m ready to obey it, Lord, and to work it in my life.

That is how we begin to grow in our personal reading and study of Scripture.

Another thing that I found helpful is to be part of a group or work with a partner. Take a book of the Bible, read it together, and then be part of a group. Talk about your discoveries, hold yourselves accountable, and ask questions of how that Word is working in each other’s life. God loves it when we treasure His Word and put it to work in our lives.

That is the appeal of this message: to love your Bible that God has given you. Let it be your authority in matters of faith and life.

Last year my predecessor’s wife passed away Ð Eunice Larsen, whom I loved dearly. When we were cleaning out her belongings, we found a treasure: her Bible. That Bible was so beaten up! The binding was held together by duct tape. Notes were written all over the inside and in the covers. Passages were underlined and highlighted. It was just wonderful to look through it. I thought of the wonderful testimony that Bible gave to her children and grandchildren of how important the Word of God was in her life and made her what she was, which was a real loving saint. She wore out her Bible, and I thought to myself, “That’s what I want to do. I want to be known as a person who wore out his Bible.”

I encourage you to join me in that endeavor. Let’s wear out our Bibles.

Devote Yourself to Prayer

It only takes a quick glance at the newspaper, the evening news, or a television show or a conversation with people around you to see that it is a crazy, mixed-up world in which we live. It’s a world that sometimes feels like it has been turned upside down, where wrong is called right, right is now called wrong. Our world is filled with all kinds of unhealthy messages that can get us mixed up, confused, or depressed. It is filled with people who challenge our core beliefs and values as a follower of Jesus Christ. So my question is, How do you keep your head on straight in a crazy, mixed-up world and not get all turned around, mixed up, and depressed about it?

God’s counsel comes through the hand of a pastor named Paul who was working with some folks called the Colossians. They found themselves struggling to keep their heads on straight in their crazy, mixed-up world. (In fact, it’s always been a crazy, mixed-up world as long as human beings with their sinfulness have been involved with it.) The Colossians were being challenged by their culture and some strange spiritual teachings that challenged their core beliefs, so Paul wrote them a letter in order to help them. Today we are in the closing section of this letter, and, as is typical of Paul in his closings, he gives out a little to-do list for the future.

Paul writes, “Devote yourself to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.”

First of all, that word: devote. It means to give oneself over to something, to continue steadfastly in it, to persistently keep at it.

Think of all the things in our lives that we devote ourselves to. Husbands are devoted to their wives. We are devoted to our kids. We are devoted to sports or athletics or studies. Some of us might say we’re devoted to our jobs. Someone else may say they are devoted to their grandchildren. Paul tells us to devote ourselves to prayer, for prayer is a big deal. All through the book of Acts and in all the letters of the New Testament, people are told to pray.

What value does prayer have in this crazy, mixed-up world? Before we answer that question, we need to take a look at prayer. Let me tell you, first of all, what it is not.

Prayer is not a mechanical program that gets in my way. It’s not simply a laundry list that I take to God. It’s not like popping some change into a pop machine and waiting for the product. It’s not like that at all!

Prayer is like holding hands with God. It’s relationship building. It’s taking the time to connect and spend time with the Heavenly Father. It’s recognizing and discovering who He is and how great He is. Someone once described prayer as being enfolded into God and God enfolded into us Ð like holding hands.

Bill Hybels is a pastor whose materials I enjoy reading. He writes, “Prayer has not always been my strong suit. For many years, even as a senior pastor of a large church, I knew more about prayer than I ever practiced in my own life. I have a racehorse temperament, and the tugs of self-sufficiency and self-reliance are very real to me. I didn’t want to get off the fast-track long enough to find out what prayer is all about. But the Holy Spirit gave me a leading so direct I couldn’t ignore it, argue against it, or disobey it. The leading was to explore, study, and practice prayer until I finally understood it. So I obeyed. I read 15 or 20 major books on prayer Ð some old, some new. I studied almost every passage on prayer in the Bible. And then I did something absolutely radical. I prayed.

“It has been 20 years since I began taking time to pray, and my prayer life has been transformed. The greatest fulfillment has not been the list of miraculous answers to prayers I’ve received, although that has been wonderful. The greatest thrill has been the qualitative difference in my relationship with God. When I started to pray, I didn’t know what was going to happen. God and I used to be rather casually related to each another. We didn’t get together and talk very much. Now, however, we get together a lot, not talking on the run, but carrying on substantial, soul-searching conversations every morning for a good chunk of time. I feel as if I’ve gotten to know God a lot better since I started praying.” Bill Hybels discovered prayer is about relationship building.

A fellow named John DeVries wrote a wonderful little book entitled Why Pray? that our congregation has been reading of late. He describes praying as sitting on God’s lap. Listen to this:

“My wife and I are blessed with thirteen grandchildren as of this writing. The oldest is ten, and ten of them are boys. In that crowd is six-year-old Andrew, whose other set of grandparents, Nana and Papa Dykstra, are dairy farmers in Nova Scotia. When he turned six, Andrew spent a week with Nana and Papa Dykstra on their farm Ôhelping’ in the barn and on the tractor. Of course, Nana and Papa doted on him, as loving grandparents will, telling little Andrew they just couldn’t imagine how they got along on the farm without him! When he left at the end of the week, their accolades rang in his little ears, and his head was swollen with pride at how he had helped them. They called regularly and each phone call ended with talking to Andrew and asking when he could possibly come back and help them on the farm. ÔIt was so hard without him,’ they said, “although they were getting by. But they could hardly wait!'”

“Well, little Andrew took this seriously Ð so seriously that in his prayer circle at Sunday school he offered lengthy prayers asking God to help Nana and Papa, because they had so much trouble running the farm without him. How my wife and I laughed when our daughter Mary called and told us the story! But then God nudged me a bit saying, ÔJohn, you’ve been like little Andrew with me. You have treated me like a helper in the sky thinking that all the work has fallen on your shoulders. You laugh in love at your little grandson’s inflated ideas of how he’s needed on the farm, but don’t you think that I, with love and delight, have laughed at all your exaggerated and puffed-up ideas of importance in my kingdom?’

“Since then, I’ve often thought of little Andrew on Papa’s lap,” John writes, “as he lumbered off on the tractor to do fieldwork. This image strikes me as a picture of me in prayer. Prayer is the dependent relationship in which I sit on the lap of my Heavenly Father and put my hand on His as He steers the tractor. After all, He not only owns and drives the tractor, but He also owns the farm.

“And when the old enemy satan plays tricks in my mind, tempting me to think I don’t matter to God, I ask myself what experiences on the tractor must’ve been most memorable for Papa Dykstra. The answer, of course, is that, of all of the hours spent on the tractor, none were so precious as when he had his little Andrew on his lap, and together they drove out to work in the field.

“As my Heavenly Father looks back, surely the greatest moments of delight in His relationship with me are when I, in childlike dependence and faith, climbed into His lap in prayer, put my little hand on His big hand and said, ÔFather, could we drive the tractor over here?’ Prayer is sitting in God’s lap.”

Finally, prayer is plugging in and getting recharged. I own a cell phone that constantly needs to be plugged in and recharged if it’s going operate, but sometimes I get so busy and distracted with life that I don’t have time to plug it or I forget to do it. Then the phone goes dead on me, and it can’t do its job.

We also have times when we need to stop, plug in and get filled with the Holy Spirit. We need to get empowered because we’re only human and cannot run on our own power.

A theologian from times past named O’Hallesby wrote a little book called Prayer that had has an impact on my life. He writes, “Prayer is God coming into us. The book of Revelation has a verse, ÔBehold I stand at the door knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I’ll come in to him and eat with him and he with me.'” That alone is a good reason to devote myself to prayer isn’t it? But there’s even more.

Paul says prayer is a means of keeping us alert. “Devote yourself to prayer keeping alert in it.” It keeps us attentive, vigilant, and awake to the craziness and needs of the world around us. It reminds us again and again of the greatness and goodness of God as we remember with gratitude all that He has done for us in Jesus Christ. It brings into focus the big picture Ð that God is in charge of this crazy world.

So are there any other reasons, you might wonder? Well, actually prayer was not an original thought on the part of Paul. Jesus, Himself, lived a prayer-saturated life. He was always in prayer. When the disciples got up in the morning, they’d find Jesus spending time in prayer with His Father. Before He chose His disciples, Jesus went up on the hill and prayed. Before He took on anything, Jesus prayed Ð whether it was feeding 5,000 or preparing to go to the cross at the garden of Gethsemane. Even on the cross as He prepared to die, He was in prayer.

Now let me ask you, if Jesus sensed the need to devote Himself to praying, why would we, as His followers, not follow in His footsteps?

We see Jesus telling the disciples a parable in Luke 18. The point of the parable was to not give up on being men of prayer. All through the New Testament, the message is the same: We’re praying for you; pray for us.

I think of my friend, Carol. She’s a palliative doctor who works with hospice, and she does some very serious work. Doing her work day in and day out can really get a person down, I suppose. However, if you would ask Carol how she does it so well, she would point to her prayer life. She is one of the most prayerful persons I know. She’s devoted to it. She prays with and for her patients, and she prays for herself to be used by God. What an impact she’s making with her life in this world!

So what does it take to devote yourself to prayer? Well, here are a few nuts and bolts to cover. First of all, find a quiet place for yourself. Then, make an appointment each day to meet with God. Write it on your calendar, if necessary, and keep the appointment. Don’t stand God up. He’s waiting for you. And if you are wondering what you will talk about, here’s a structure that has worked for me. It’s the ACTS acronym.

A = Adoration. I begin my prayer time in adoration telling God “I love you because . . .” I am reminding myself of how great God is. If you can’t think of reasons for loving God, go to the book of Psalms. Use Psalm 103 or any of the great praise psalms.

C = Confession. “Lord, I’m sorry for . . .” And I do an inventory of the past hours when I have fallen short of being that loving person God has called me to be.

T = Thanksgiving. This could go on and on as I think of all that God has done for me in my life.

S = Supplication. This is where I turn to God and ask for His help. I lift up people who matter to me and to whom I am trying to minister. I pray for the Church. I pray for God’s kingdom to come. I pray God will use me. I pray for His help with things I am struggling with in my own life.

Sometimes I find it hard to focus, so I’ve learned along the way to slow myself down. When I write a letter to God, I am amazed at how it helps me stay focused on Him. I also use prayer partners. Paul wrote this letter to a community knowing there is power in praying together.

Also, remember you are praying to the One who is devoted to you. He made you in His image and knows you through and through. He loves you so much He gave His Son to die on a cross so you can have the privilege of having a relationship with Him and meet with Him in prayer. This God, who is so devoted to you, is throwing you and me a lifeline telling us to devote ourselves to spending time with Him in prayer.

The emphasis today is to devote yourself to prayer in this crazy, mixed-up world

If you’re feeling a little empty these days in this crazy, mixed-up world, I suggest to you, maybe it’s time to pray. It is God’s great gift to you and me to keep our heads on straight. Joy, strength, and peace awaits each person who turns to Him in prayer.

Under Construction: Fellowship

My wife Julie and I had some work done on our house recently. Our master bathroom, which really needed work, was under construction for quite a while throughout the spring and summer. We came up with a concept design, and then we had it gutted and totally redone. It was a long, tedious process. Fortunately, though, we had a second bathroom to use. Now it’s done, and wow! It is beautiful! We’ve even joke that we are going to take a picture of it and use it in our Christmas cards this year!

Why am I talking about my bathroom? Well for the first past two weeks I’ve been doing a little sermon series entitled “Under Construction.” God’s Word tells us that the follower of Jesus Christ is a person who is basically under construction. When a person says “yes” to Jesus, his life becomes a construction site. God’s intention is to build him up and conform him to the image of Jesus Christ. It is a lifelong process.

God uses various tools to make this happen. He uses the Word of God, as we talked about the first week, and He uses worship, which we talked about last week. Today we’re looking at one more vital ingredient that is found in the post Pentecost story about the beginning of the church. Today we are going to look again at what Jesus’ disciples of Jesus did with the 3,000 new converts to the faith.

Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching (that’s the Word) and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers (worship).” All who believed were together and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods and distributed the proceeds to all as any had need. They devoted themselves to fellowship.

What comes to mind when you think of fellowship? When I was growing up, fellowship at our home church in Montana meant coffee and donuts after worship. We had a big room in the church basement called Fellowship Hall where we would have regular potlucks, which I loved. While these things are fine and are fond memories for many of us, it is not what this passage seems to be describing. I just can’t picture 3,000 people standing around eating cookies and drinking coffee after their baptismal service on Pentecost.

The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia. It comes from the root koina, which is defined as common. They had a common life. Koinonia describes coming together in partnership, in sharing, in communion, around a common denominator, a common connection Ð Jesus Christ. They had each been saved by Jesus from sin and death and had placed their faith in Him and what He did for them at the cross. They each had received restored fellowship with God through Jesus, and it brought them together, so they shared in that life. They connected with one another in partnership and devoted themselves to the community. They enjoyed fellowship in homes. They studied together, ate together, worshiped together, prayed together, and took care of each other’s needs. There was a lot of giving to each other.

The question we should probably be asking is, so why did they devote themselves to fellowship? Obviously, the disciples of Jesus started the activity. Perhaps they remembered Jesus saying, “For where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst. (Matthew 18:20).” They wanted these new Christians to experience the power of that promise of Christ: that He was present with them. Or perhaps they remembered Jesus again and again describing the Christian life in terms of participating as a community. Maybe it was simply the fact that the Apostles were discipled in fellowship as a community. Jesus had modeled it. He even sent them out on mission trips two by two in their training. Jesus seemed to ingrain in their thinking that they never were to go it alone.

Perhaps it was Old Testament wisdom about the power of being together like Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 4:9, “Two are better than one . . .” They can withstand anything together. Or in the book of Proverbs, “Iron sharpens iron . . .” (Proverbs 27:17).

Maybe all these things played into the rationale of those disciples. We can’t know for certain, but we do know this: they devoted themselves to fellowship, to walking the journey of faith in Christ together, to being the church. It was a priority in their discipling program.

What does this fellowship look like? Well, as we saw earlier in Acts, it describes people who gathered together. They even went so far as to sell what they had and gave the proceeds to those in need.

Now this passage isn’t saying you shouldn’t have possessions when you become a Christian. Obviously people kept their homes where the meetings were held. Jesus and His apostles never outlawed private possessions for Christians. We do remember Him calling the rich young ruler to voluntarily give everything away to follow Him, but that was a single occasion and not a regular demand. The main point the writer of Acts (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) is trying to make is that these people stuck together. As followers of Jesus, they took care of each other and looked out for each other.

The practice didn’t stop with that first church. They kept at it in the years that followed. Have you ever noticed the dozens of “one-another” phrases in the New Testament? Love one another. Live in peace with one another. Honor one another. Teach and admonish one another. Accept one another. Stop judging one another. Serve one another. Forgive one another. Have concern for one another. Carry one another’s burdens. Don’t envy one another. Restore one another. Comfort, encourage one another.

Dozens of these kinds of admonitions are in those letters. If you do a little research on your own, you’ll find even more. They basically all come back to Christ’s command to “love one another as I have loved you.” It is a clue that fellowship is not a small thing or an afterthought in God’s mind in your discipleship; it is a practical necessity for your personal growth in Christ. We were not meant to go it alone in our life with Jesus. A personal relationship with Christ is meant to be lived out in fellowship with other believers in the local church. It is kind of like a laboratory experience that grows us, and we learn to live with one another.

Remember, most of the New Testament letters were written to church communities (fellowships) Ð not individuals Ð giving them instruction in how to do life together. The payoff is huge in this, you see, for God can use the gift of each other to keep us strong and build us up into something that resembles the image of his Son, Jesus. We receive great strength and personal growth in doing “one-anothers” in fellowship.

After every altar call, Billy Graham, the great evangelist, would say, “Now that you’ve said Ôyes’ to Jesus, go find a Bible-believing church and plug-in.” He knows how important fellowship is to grow a person in their life with Jesus. He said one time, “Churchgoers are like coals in a fire. When they cling together, they keep the flame aglow. When they separate, they die out.” Martin Luther once said, “No man or woman should be alone when opposing satan. The church and the ministry of the Word were instituted for this purpose, that hands may be joined together and one help another.”

I like reading the writings of Christian writer Max Lucado, who wrote a wonderful little statement in one of his books, Imagine Your Life Without Fear. He said, “Questions can make hermits out of us, driving us into hiding. Yet the cave has no answers. Christ distributes courage through community. He dissipates doubts through fellowship. He never deposits all knowledge in one person but distributes pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to many. When you interlock your understanding with mine and we share our discoveries, when we mix, mingle, confess, and pray, Christ speaks.”

Another writer that I enjoy, Ann Lamott, shares a story she heard from her minister that illustrates the necessary presence of others in our journey of faith. She writes, “When my minister was about seven, her best friend got lost one day. The little girl ran up and down the streets of the big town where they lived, but she couldn’t find a single landmark. She was very frightened. Finally a policeman stopped to help her. He put her in the passenger seat of his car, they drove around until she finally saw her church. She pointed it out to the policeman and then she told him firmly, “You can let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from my church.”

Lamott goes on to say, “And that’s why I stayed so close to my church: because no matter how bad I’m feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened, when I see the faces of the people at my church and hear their tiny voices, I can always find my way home.”

In my own congregation at Shepherd of the Valley where I’ve had the pleasure of being a pastor for so long, we spend a lot of time, energy, and resources building strong, life-changing fellowship through small group ministries. Our theme this past year was “Life is better connected,” because we’ve discovered along the way that, by committing yourself to sharing your love and the love of Jesus with other believers, you get changed. This past Sunday I watched, with great joy, a group of people head into our little prayer chapel with one of our members, Mary, who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her small group insisted that they pray over her and hold her up to the Lord. That sort of fellowship strengthens a person, and you experience the truth of the statement, “Where two or three are gathered, there am I in the midst of them.” Mary sure experienced it that day.

Fellowship also strengthens our witness for Christ to the world around us. A loving community attracts. Acts remind us of that. After describing this fellowship, it says, “and the Lord added to their number daily.” You see, when people are getting loved and are getting taken care of, when they give themselves away to each other and have a strong sense of belonging, word gets around. People are hungry to belong and by belonging we can point them to Christ, who is our common denominator and is behind all of it.

In light of what we’ve studied today in this text, my appeal is for you to devote yourself to being an active, giving participant in the fellowship of believers in your local church. Be there for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Fellowship can be done in a variety of ways by volunteering to serve in your church. Maybe your church is doing a Habitat for Humanity project, or the nursery is in need of workers so young couples can go to church without wrestling with their small infants. We are never too old to participate in something like that.

Perhaps a Sunday school class, a youth group, or someone in your church needs a helping hand. Plug in even if you are homebound. I challenge you to call your pastor, ask for a few names of people in your church for whom you can pray or send a card of encouragement. You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make. Befriend someone who needs a friend. They’re going through a rough patch and need someone to come alongside of them. Perhaps you could use your professional skills to help someone who can’t pay, like the retired handyman I read about who does work for widows once a week, or a dentist who helped out a single mom’s child who badly needed some dental work but couldn’t pay. Offer to give someone a ride to church or to the doctor. Maybe you’ve got a timeshare or a cabin up north and you know someone who can’t afford to go on a vacation but really needs to get away with their family. Give it to them.

Fellowship can be done in a whole host of creative ways, and you will be amazed at what God can do with you and through you and in you.