Light The Fire Again
Preparing for Spiritual Breakthrough
This is a church on fire
This is a Holy Spirit place
It is our burning desire to lift up Jesus name
Let fire burn in every heart
To light the way defeat the dark
Let the flame of love burn higher
This is a church - This is a church on fire
It is the model church. It is a place a vital and vibrant worship. We hear about them immersing themselves in teaching and learning Biblical truth. We see them engaging in breaking of bread and prayer, vital worship. There is fellowship, masks are coming off with no more relational pretending, and in that environment of honesty and vulnerability deep community is being born as members encourage and support one another. The wealthier members own responsibility and care for the poor, people sharing their property and possessions, a spirit of unity and love, eating in one another's home. Members are spontaneously finding ways that they can pour ministry into the lives of other members of the church, and people that they rub shoulders with on a daily basis. And as all of that is happening God is providing members of the church are involved in daily sharing their faith, so that friends, family and associates were making regular decisions for Christ. On no less than two occasions, the church has had a crowd of thousands making a first time commitment to follow Christ.
Would you like to be involved in a church like that? Does your heart cry out to have God move within this church in the same sort of way as He has the church I just spoke about? Who wouldn't desire a taste of that kind of worship, discipleship, ministry and outreach?
And what about you personally? Do you have a desire for God to do something remarkable in your life … to stoke within you a life changing spiritual fire? Would it bring a spine tingling thrill to your life to see God work through you like he works through members of the church I just mentioned?
However, maybe you sit there wondering, “Why hasn't God worked that miracle yet? Why hasn't he moved in my life in the same kind of dynamic ways?”
We read about that church in Acts 2, and we stand in awe at what was going on in that early church. We read of the breathtakingly beautiful dynamics going on in the early church. Have you ever wondered what it was that ignited the first century church in Jerusalem? What was it that transformed a semi-defeated Bible study group meeting in an upper room in Jerusalem into this highly energized, Holy Spirit empowered, life-giving local church?
When you read the book of Acts, and you see what God did through that first church, you will stand in awe at what God did through a local fellowship. That local fellowship became the launching pad what F. F. Bruce calls “the spreading flame” for the spread of the church around the world.
If you are like me when you read Acts, and you look at a churches vital signs, signs like those mentioned, you find yourself saying, "God, I want more of that kind of spiritual activity in my church. I would give anything to be set on fire with the explosive power of the Holy Spirit in my congregation. I'd give anything for my church to become an Acts 2 church."
To which God responds, "I would too."
But then when you ask the follow-up question: "How can we get started? How can the revolution get going?" I think the answer from heaven will be "Start where the Acts 2 church started."
Why is it that some churches are ablaze with the movement of God while others have more in common with the morgue? Further, why is it that some individual Christ-followers have obvious signs that the Holy Spirit is performing his transforming work in them, while it appears that God has failed to bring life-change to others.
I know that the Holy Spirit is instrumental in Christians experiencing spiritual breakthrough. After all, the filling of the disciples with the Holy Spirit is the pivotal event in Acts 2. The chapter begins “On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks, after Jesus’ resurrection, the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them, and it filled the house where they were meeting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit …” (2:1-4).
You see, what happened to the disciples, the Holy Spirit comes and not only appears as a flame, but lights a spiritual fire within them that transforms the world.
But what makes some Christians more prone to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, resulting in these times of supercharged spiritual growth? I think we get a clue from the church in Acts, before it became an Acts 2 church.
Is it possible that some people are more prone to the work of the Holy Spirit because they have placed themselves in a position that is receptive and open to his transforming work? At the same time, is it possible that others don’t experience transformation … their lives are not set on fire … because they aren’t open and prepared for God’s presence in the Holy Spirit? They haven’t placed themselves in a position to hear and respond to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Take out your Bibles, and we are going to look at a few verses at the end of Acts 1, verses that lay the groundwork for the Holy Spirit's remarkable activity in Acts 2. In these verses, there are at least three indicators of how believers prepared for and displayed openness to the Holy Spirit acting powerfully through their lives and through the church. As the disciples engage in these three indicators, we see their lives warming to the fire that God will place within them.
Here is what we are going to do: I am briefly going to share with you the three indicators from Acts 1. After I have spoken about each one, I would like you to take a moment and, using the scale on the screen, rate yourself on that indicator. Then, as we close, there will be a time offered for everyone to make a decisive commitment toward growing in one of those indicators in 2011.
1. Participation in Group Life
The first indicator is located in that simple phrase in verse 14, "they all met together". Now to most of us that phrase doesn't really say much. We hurry on through. But to do that we would miss a tremendous insight into what makes a believer prone to the work of the Holy Spirit.
You know how most of your translation have "met together" that sounds like the people came on Sunday morning, spent their time in worship together, and went their own ways to their own homes, locked behind their own doors, living their own lives until next Sunday.
The term that occurs implies a much deeper level of connection. The term carries that idea of being of one mind, of giving common consent. It's not simply a matter of having bodies together in the same building, but a true and honest connection between one another, where lives are opened, and pain is shared and life's joys are experienced by everyone. The first indicator is participation in group life.
Think about this: the disciples are hold up in the upper room. Jesus is gone. What do you think went on during the secluded forty days they spent together? I'll tell you one thing - they built community.
Remember the competition that went on before. Remember the arguments that went on before about who was better. Remember the high ambitions they had for themselves, and the heights from which they had fallen. Those forty days gave them time to talk about their failures, to experience forgiveness, to be encouraged - to build community.
Our hearts were made for community. We hunger for the deep, authentic relationships Jesus had in mind when he prayed that his followers would be one. Yet in many churches, the connection we crave is lacking. How can church become a place where nobody stands alone? Through small groups. Like nothing else, they provide the kind of life-giving community that builds and empowers the body of Christ and impacts the world.
Listen to this from Christian counselor, Larry Crabb:
A central task of community is to create a place that is safe enough for the walls to be torn down, safe enough for each of us to own and reveal our brokenness. Only then can the power of connecting do its job. Only then can community be used of God to restore our souls. (The Safest Place on Earth, p. 11)
This sort of community doesn't happen on Sunday morning when we need to hurry home because the roast is burning. It happens when a small group of people commit themselves to spending time together growing together in authentic relationship with one another. And as I spend time with that group, my soul is opened to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
That is why the Elders made the decision to make Connection Groups as principle part of our ministry life at FCC last year. We can’t experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit on our own. We need involvement in community if the Holy Spirit is going to do his work.
How are you doing here? Take a moment and rate your level of participation in group life. How are you doing on this indicator? Are you measuring pretty high? Are you somewhere in the middle? Or are you already in trouble?
2. Daily Time Spent Seeking God in Prayer.
The second indicator follows directly on the heels of the first. And it was of such importance that it was understood as the identity of the entire meeting, "in prayer continually." The second indicator is daily time spent seeking God in prayer.
There's something luxurious about room service in a hotel. All you have to do is pick up the phone and somebody is ready and waiting to bring you breakfast, lunch, dinner, a chocolate milkshake, whatever your heart desires and your stomach will tolerate. Or by another languid motion of wrist, you can telephone for someone who will get a soiled shirt quickly transformed into a clean one or a rumpled suit into a pressed one. That's the concept that some of us have of prayer. We have created God in the image of a divine bellhop. Prayer, for us, is the ultimate in room service, wrought by direct dialing. Furthermore, no tipping, and everything is charged to that great credit card in the sky. Now prayer is many things, but I'm pretty sure this is not one of the things it is.
Again let's take a moment and consider the situation of those gathered in that upper room. Jesus, when he left them, had told them to wait. Nowadays, waiting is akin to wasting time. In our activist age, one would expect that this group, which where to be witnesses to the world, would find some more meaningful activity.
But waiting in the Biblical sense implies an earnest seeking after God and His desires. That is way their prayers become such a weighty matter. I'm sure there were prayers of thanksgiving and prayers of repentance. But most of all, their prayers were that God's plan will become clear, that His promises will be fulfilled, that they will be able to stand up in the face of the oncoming onslaught that was to be expected. They are prayers that reach down into their own hearts and test their own willingness to surrender to the direction of God.
It is as John Bunyan once said, "You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed." Or the preacher George Buttrick, "Prayer is not a substitute for work, thinking, watching, suffering, or giving; prayer is a support for all other efforts."
But notice that these weren’t just “Lone Ranger” prayer moments. The believers were gathered together to pray. Prayer erupted in the time that they spent together with one another. In the midst of their shared moments, they get on their knees not only with one another, but for one another.
It’s nice to hear someone say, “I’ll pray for you.” It is something entirely different for that same person to break away from the demands of their pressing schedule and say, “Can I pray with you about that right now?”, and spend time together at the foot of God’s throne imploring God, seeking his face, listening for his voice.
These times of shared prayer may occur during Sunday morning worship. But they are more apt to occur in Connection Groups as we share our lives and struggles together, on Monday during prayer meeting as people dedicate themselves to prayer, or during phone conversations as we connect with one another during the week.
How are you doing here? What is the quality of your conversations with God? Are you doing okay? Have you got a lot of room to improve? Or are you out of the game?
There are the first two of the indicators: 1) Participation in group life; and 2) Daily time spent seeking God in prayer. We will take a little bit more time looking at one more indicator. Then you will be challenged to commit to an area of determined growth for 2011.
3. Specific application of God's Word
The third indicator is specific application of God's Word. It is in the midst of these prayer group meetings that Peter stands up and speaks. He apparently has been spending some time studying the Bible in the background and he discovered something that needs to be done. He argues that what Judas did was necessary to fulfill scripture, and offers some quotes to substantiate his point. From there they determine that they need to replace Judas.
When Elizabeth Barrett became the wife of Robert Browning, her parents disowned her because they disapproved of the marriage. The daughter, however, wrote almost every week, telling them that she loved them and longed for reconciliation. After 10 years she received a huge box in the mail that contained all the notes she had sent. Not one had been opened! Although these "love letters" have become an invaluable part of classical English literature, it's really pathetic to think that Elizabeth Barrett’s parents never read them. Had they looked at just one, the broken relationship with their daughter might have been healed.
However, as pathetic as it was for Elizabeth Barrett's parents to ignore her "love letters", it is even worse when the loved ones of Christ ignore our love letters from God, the Bible. Yet recent studies have concluded that less than 50% of Christians spend any time reading the Bible. And only 15% spend regular time in reading and studying of God's Word.
You see God never gave us the Bible so that we could sit in worship and hear endless numbers of sermons and then go our way, unchanged and unscathed. Do you know these verses, tucked away in the folds of your Bible? Would you read them with me? "So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (Isa. 55:11). Or from Hebrews 4:12: "For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
Do you see the problem? God's Word cannot be active in our lives if it is ignored on the shelf. In order to live out, to apply God's Word to the activities of our lives, we have to know what His word says. Then we have to take the decisive step to make the tough choices in actually doing what it says.
For many of us, the failure of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives has little to nothing to do with spiritual ignorance. The problem is spiritual disobedience. God has already made clear what he desire from us. We have sat through countless numbers of sermons that have regurgitated what the life of a Christ-follower looks like. What remains is our willingness to let the Holy Spirit transform our behavior, our attitudes and our character.
In the story of the two builders, what was the difference between the wise and foolish? The wise heard the words and did them. The foolish builder heard the same words, but would not put them into practice.
It's time that we dusted off our Bibles, and put them to work dusting off our souls.
So, how are you doing here? How to you rate yourself on the practice of putting Scripture into practice? How are you at Bible application? Are you doing okay? Is this an area that you need an intervention?
Can I say this: You might be involved in a group ... Every week you are in attendance, and you have a lot to say during Connection time ... and you might spend hours in prayer, praying individually and with others, asking God to make his directions clear. But if you aren’t willing to put what you know, what God has made abundantly clear in his Word, into practice the Holy Spirit will never be able to kindle a spiritual fire within you.
So there you have the three indicators of how believers prepared for and displayed openness to the Holy Spirit acting powerfully through their lives and through the church. They participated in group life. They spent time daily seeking God in prayer. And lastly, they made specific application of God's Word to their lives.
How about you? How did you score? Is there an area or two, or perhaps even all three, where you are visibly not ready for the Holy Spirit to show up. Be brutally honest with yourself. No one is going to see your scores. How did you do?
Remember, becoming an Acts 2 kind of believer and an Acts 2 kind of church is dependent upon this. It is by living a life with these three indicators that we tell God we ready for the Holy Spirit's work in our lives. The blessings of a church that is a loving place of fellowship, where people are regularly being reached and lives are being changed, where people are finding the joy of meaningful ministry is all a by-product of a life with those indicators.
Here is what I need you to do, here is what you need for yourself to do, and most importantly, here is what God needs you to do. (Making My Growth Covenant slide – see below) Take out the "Growth Covenant 2011" card from the bulletin. On that card, you will find three covenants for growth that you can make to God for 2011. Each of those covenants reflects one of the indicators of which we have been speaking. You may need to select one, or two, or perhaps, if needed, all three covenants are where you are not ready to commit yourself to growth in 2011. If you are weak in time in prayer, select that as your growth covenant in 2011. If you have been trying to go it alone, make group life your growth covenant.
I am going to pray, then as Lois sings, spend some time, just you and God, agreeing on your covenant. As you complete your card, bring it up to the altar, and present that covenant to God.
Making My Growth Covenant
1. Take the “Growth Covenant 2011” card from the bulletin.
2. Select covenant area(s) of commitment for 2011
3. Place the Growth Covenant in a prominent place to remind you of your covenant throughout the year.