What If? - 1

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What If? – 1
As we begin a New Year together I want to give you a heads up about where we are going as a church in 2019. We are going to focus on building a solid foundation. What is the church? Why do we even have church? Who are we as the church? What are we supposed to do as the church? To answer these questions of identity and purpose, we are going to spend several months walking through the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians. We are going to let the Word lead us as we discover together who we are and what we are supposed to be doing. We will begin that journey in two weeks.
Today and next Sunday will serve as an introduction to that journey. Looking through the lens of , we are going to see how the church began and how it is supposed to function…at a macro/big-picture level. To do that I am going to take some concepts that we have talked about over the last couple years, and combine them. If you have been with us over the last two years, then much of this will sound familiar as we remind ourselves of these great truths. If you have become part of this church in the last year or two, this will help unify us all regarding what it is that we are supposed to be doing in this whole church thing. We are going to frame it all up around a great question…one that is even more helpful at the beginning of a New Year – What If?
History is the study of past events, of what actually happened. But there is a branch of history called counterfactual theory. Counterfactual theory asks the ‘what if’ questions. It considers the alternate realities that might have emerged if the hinges of history had swung the other way. It’s been said that ‘what if?’ is the historian’s favorite question.[1]
· What if one of the four musket balls that passed through George Washington’s coat during the Battle of Monongahela in 1755 had pierced his heart?
· What if the D-Day invasion by Allied Forces on June 6, 1944 had failed to halt the Nazi regime?
· What if the Confederate Army had won the Battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863?
History is filled with ‘what if’ moments. So is the Bible.
· What if David had missed Goliath with that stone?
· What if Esther had not gone to the King to seek help, thus saving the Israelites from genocide?
· What if Joseph and Mary had not heeded the angel’s warning to flee Bethlehem before Herod’s killing crew arrived?
What if? It’s a powerful question. As we turn the calendar page to a New Year, ‘what if?’ is a question that cuts both ways. Around this time of year, ‘what if?’ is asked as a form of regret. What if we hadn’t done that? What if we never said that? What if I would have said yes to that opportunity? What if I would have said ‘I love you’ one more time? What if I had been guided more by faith than by fear? At a New Year, we can easily be overwhelmed by regret. What if we would have actually completed our New Year’s resolutions from 2018? What if we hadn’t already broken the resolutions from 2019?
What if? That question doesn’t have to one of regret. This is a question that cuts both ways. Instead of this being a question of missed opportunities, it can be a question of hope. A question of possibility. What if? What if this year was the year that you fulfilled your resolutions? What if you took the steps to become the person God created you to be?
ILL - On August 15, 1987, Howard Schultz was faced with the toughest decision of his life – whether or not to buy a small chain of coffeehouses with a strange name: Starbucks. Knowing what we know now, it seems like such a no-brainer. But to Schultz, the $3.8 million price tag felt impossible. In his memoir, Pour Your Heart Into It, the architect behind the brand reflects on his ‘what if’ moment:
“This is my moment, I thought. If I don’t seize the opportunity, if I don’t step out of my comfort zone and risk it all, if I let too much time tick on, my moment will pass. I knew that if I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, I would replay it in my mind for my whole life, wondering: What if?”[2]
As we now know, Howard Schultz made a defining decision to give up the safety net of his salary and pursue his passion for coffee. Five years later, on June 26, 1992, Starbucks stock went public. It was the second more actively traded stock on the NASDAQ that day, and by closing bell its market capitalization stood at $273 million. Not bad for a $3.8 million investment. Starbucks now has around 17,000 stores in 40 countries, an employee roster that doubles the population of Greenland, with revenues topping $5 billion. All because of one little ‘what if’ moment.
Mark Batterson writes, “If you stop and think about it, everything begins with if. Every achievement, from the Nobel Prize to the Oscars, begins with what if? Every dream, from landing a man on the moon to the moon pies created to commemorate it, begins with what if? Every breakthrough, from the internet to iTunes, begins with what if? There are 1,784 ifs in the Bible. Most of those ifs function as conditional conjunctions on the front end of God’s promises. If we meet the condition, God delivers on the promise! So all that stands between your current circumstances and your wildest dreams is one little if. One little if can change everything. One little if can change anything.”[3]
TS – As we move now into a journey together as the church, to be the church, let’s ask together…what if? What if we lived out God’s design for the church here? What if these truths we study become everyday realities for us? What if we actually did this?
- In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. 3 During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.
This is happening in the 40 days immediately following Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. So this is part of the clear proof of the resurrection. Jesus talks to them about the Kingdom of God. What it is, what life in it looks like.
- 6 So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
“Our” kingdom? They missed the point of what Jesus had been telling them. They took the truths of God’s Kingdom and decided to make it into their own kingdoms. They made it about their power. Their preferences. Their opinions. Getting their way. This is where church people get off course, and we’ve been doing it since the very beginning.
7 He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.
Such a simple reply…forget about all that. That stuff is God’s responsibility; don’t you worry about it. Here is your responsibility:
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
You are not to be concerned with building your own kingdom, you are to be in the business of expanding God’s Kingdom. You are to be witnesses that testify to the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done. You do that with your neighbors, those you come in contact with regularly, and even to those around the world. God’s Kingdom is a global enterprise. This is Luke’s version of the Great Commission…the marching orders for the church.
9 After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
What are you just standing around for? Didn’t Jesus just issue you some orders? He is going to return, implying accountability for those orders. There is a timeframe we are working within. When he returns, it’s all over. No more mission. Anyone who has not placed trust in Jesus are condemned to a Christ-less eternity. And since there has been such a long time that has passed since Jesus promised his return, we have been lulled into apathy. Here’s the thing: we may not know when Jesus will return, but we do know that today is one day closer than yesterday. It’s time to take this seriously.
TS – Those early followers of Jesus hear this and act on it. About 10 days later there are about 120 Christians gathered together in a room during the Jewish festival called Pentecost. The Holy Spirit falls and empowers these Christians with the evangelistic gift of tongues…the ability to speak in a language they did not know for the purpose of sharing the Gospel across cultural boundaries. A large crowd gathers to see what is happening. Peter stands up and preaches the first Gospel sermon in history. He preaches on the person and work of Christ. Here is the response:
- 37 Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” 40 Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”
41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.
They believed these great truths about Jesus and cry out for how to respond. The right, biblical response to the Gospel…repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. 3,000 people on Day 1. Incredible. Now the church exists. What did it do? How did it live out its mission?
- 42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
Those verses provide a snapshot into the lives of these first Christians. This is what they did. This is how they lived out their faith. Let’s quickly walk through a framework for how church worked for them. Their lives were marked by four qualities:
These men and women had just been saved. They just heard the Gospel and responded in faith. They are still wet from their baptism. Their lives were transformed by the grace of God.
- 42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
Once they had been transformed, they devoted themselves to the means of growing in their new faith. They showed devotion to the Apostle’s teaching (scripture), fellowship (new relational dynamic as Christians), Lord’s Supper (remembering, centering on the sacrifice of Jesus), and prayer (developing a relationship with the God who saved them).
Notice one of their areas of devotion…fellowship. They were building relationships as this new group called The Church, sharing meals and spending much time together.
- 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—
They worshipped together corporately, and met in their homes to keep those relationships growing. In-home small groups are not a new concept. This has always been how the church has functioned. This connection united them superseded all their differences. In this church are Jews/Gentiles, Men/Women, Slaves/Master…all of them are now one in Christ.
- 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.
As they spent so much time together, they began to see each other’s needs. And they met those needs. provides another snapshot and declares “there were no needy persons among them.” That’s unbelievable.
Now, notice the progression [pic]:
Transformation > Devotion > Connection > Action > Transformation
Transformation < Action < Connection < Devotion < Transformation
Is your life marked by these qualities? Have you been transformed by God’s grace? Are you devoted to these things that grow your faith? Are you connected with other believers? Are you actively living out your faith and meeting needs around you? Are you helping others experience transformation?
What if? What if your life looked like that? What if you lived out these realities? What if this was the year you began doing these things?
[1] See If by Mark Batterson, page 13.
[2] Schultz, Pour Your Heart Into It, page 63.
[3] Batterson, If, page 9.
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