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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Consecration and Devotion (Acts 2.42-47, Proverbs 3.5-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 13, 2016
Text: Acts 2:42-47; Proverbs 3:5-10

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Scripture and Music ::
Song of Praise: God of Wonders (Mac Byrd, Steve Hidalong)
Song of Praise: Jesus, All for Jesus (Atkinson, Robin MArk)
Hymn of Sending: Take My Life and Let it Be (HENDON)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript.  Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Last week I talked about worship and we looked at how the Bible defines all of life as worship. That included serving, obeying, yielding, and loving God with all we have and all we are. This week we are going to zero in a bit more on that all-out love of God by looking at the devotion of the followers of Jesus Christ in the earliest days of the church. We will again see that love and worship of God is not a one-hour a week activity on Sunday, but an all-out, every day, every way kind of thing. I drew the comparison last week between worship and marriage. Just as loving one’s spouse is not limited to a date or special moment, worship is meant to be day in, day out, for better, for worse, in sickness, in health, and with everything we’ve got. Let’s look together at Acts 2:42 and following.

Continually Devoting Themselves (Acts 2:42)

Acts 2:42 tells us that the early believers were continually devoting themselves.  Their faith didn’t stop after they met Jesus or after the supernatural experience of Pentecost; it continued to grow in faithfulness, obedience, and commitment. There are four specific “core exercises” listed here that expressed and strengthened that devotion and commitment.

1.    GOD’S WORD: They were continually devoting themselves to God’s Word – the scriptures and Apostles’ teaching which became our New Testament. Reading, hearing, pondering, studying, listening, responding… this is what it means to devote yourself to God’s Word. How can you know what God has done, what God is like, and what God wants without it?

2.    FELLOWSHIP: They were continually devoting themselves to fellowship, less about eating together than about being church family to one another, with all that implies. This is one of the great blessings of being a part of a church. Is the family of faith important to you? Do you intentionally gather with that family and look out for that family? Like earthly family, those relationships can be neglected or they can be cultivated, and they are so important!

3.    COMMUNION: They were continually devoting themselves to the breaking of the bread, including eating together, but more importantly sharing communion together with its remembrance of, celebration of, and hope in Jesus’ saving death. Jesus is at the center of it all. We are more than a club or service organization. The news that God loved the world, pursued us in love, and redeems and reconciles us through Jesus is at the heart of what we do. Continual devotion is one reason we celebrate communion regularly (as well as worship weekly); we want to remember, retell, receive, and respond to that Good News message regularly: not once long ago, but regularly and freshly.

4.    PRAYER: And they were continually devoting themselves to prayer, communicating with God in praise, thanksgiving, intercession, and confession. I confess that I do not pray as regularly as I would like. At its heart, it is talking to and listening to God. Again like marriage, if I don’t talk to and listen to Heather, my marriage will suffer; so it is with my relationship with God. How can you and I cultivate continual devotion through prayer?

To those “core exercises” that strengthen our devotion, commitment, and relationship with God, I want to add another from the Old Testament. It is the practice of “first fruits.”

First Fruits (Proverbs 3:5-10 and Deuteronomy 26:1-2)

Exercises and practices to strengthen one’s devotion and commitment to God were not new in the New Testament. In fact, many of God’s commandments and teachings in the Old Testament were for that same purpose. One of those that I want to highlight is the practice of “first fruits.” It is the practice of offering God the first and the best of what we have rather than the leftovers (or nothing at all). Proverbs links it with wisdom, right choices, and earthly blessing:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. 8 It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones. 9 Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; 10 So your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine. (Proverbs 3:5-10)

That is not a prosperity theology, but practical advice. Good financial advisors will tell you to prioritize your spending and saving. If you truly want to save, take it off the top. It rarely will happen if it’s left to the end. So it is with giving to God. It’s hard, and that up-front commitment will often force you to re-prioritize other spending. But that’s part of the point. I’ve learned that with exercise as well. If I commit to a time for it, especially first thing, and then let my calendar fill up, it will happen and my body will experience the natural consequence of the healthy commitment. Same with time with my family.

First fruits is about two things: PRIORITY and COMMITMENT. If something is important, we have to put it first. For it not to be pushed to the side, it has to be an intentional commitment.

Deuteronomy 26:1-2 reminds us of what we heard last week: that the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. When God’s people came into the Promised Land, they were reminded that it – like everything else – comes from God. And they were challenged to make a first fruits offering to establish that pattern of priority and commitment.

I can share multiple examples in my own life – with money, with relationships, with health and exercise, and with God – where I have made a first fruit commitment and where I have not. It’s not an easy thing, but the difference it makes is unmistakable. A little bit later in the service, Todd Pearce is going to share some similar examples around this theme from his own life.

Exercise and Commitment Yields Results (Acts 2:43-47)

Acts 2 goes on to describe some of the things that God did out of the devotion and commitment of the early Christians.

For one, they experienced the POWER and PRESENCE of God. They felt a sense of awe (v. 43) and they witnessed signs and wonders. I think that so often we want to turn that around: I want to have the powerful experience of God, or the Hollywood romantic experience, or the endorphin rush of health, and THEN I think that will motivate my commitments and priorities. But reality and experience seems to be the opposite (sorry, Hollywood!): commitment, habit, practice, and priority lead us closer to the things or people we prioritize. Want to experience God? Then put God first; test that out; see for yourself.

In vv. 44-45, we read of their GENEROSITY, an almost unbelievable sharing of property and possessions. That scares us – sounds like socialism. But this was voluntary, neither required by government or cult leader; they took care of the needs in their fellowship and their community. Our Deacon’s Timothy Fund is not unlike that. Part of your giving to the church goes into that fund that is used exclusively for church and community crisis needs. It is a sharing of resources, led by God’s Spirit. We’ve done some amazing things with it on a small scale. I sometimes wonder what it might look like if God really got a hold of us!

And in vv. 46-47 we see that their DEVOTION CONTINUED. Even as God showed up and did extraordinary things, they did not sit back, but kept on with the core exercises of worship, study, communion, fellowship, community, and first fruits. And God grew and multiplied them – not for their sake, but for His own Name.

Looking Ahead

As we look ahead to 2017, there is much that I believe God would do through this church. I challenge you to step up and step out in faith. Embrace these core exercises of devotion and commitment. Embrace the practice of “first fruits” even for a time and see how God changes you and uses you. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed; I think you’ll be amazed… in awe! This week Shannon Klar will be sending a letter out to our members asking you to make an intentional financial commitment of first fruits. Please consider that thoughtfully. I will continue to ask you to join me in figuring out where God is leading us: I suspect it will increasingly be out into our community, across racial lines, into the spiritual and economic need of those to whom Jesus has asked us to consider our neighbors. I believe God has brought you and me together in this special place, this special church, for an extraordinary reason, because He is an extraordinary God. Join me; step up; step out! Amen!

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