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Greg Laurie - Better Together

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    Greg Laurie - Better Together

Okay, so a genie appears to a woman and he says, "I will grant you as many wishes as you want". Well, she was very excited. She said, "Well, Genie, let me say that my wish is that my husband's eyes should only be on me during all waking hours". The genie said, "Okay, I can do that. What else do you want"? She said, "I don't want him to be concerned with anyone except me". "What else"? She says, "I don't want him to sleep without me by his side". "Okay, wow, the list is growing. Anything else"? "Yes," she says, "when he wakes up in the morning I want him to see my face first". The genie says, "All right. Anything else you wanna add"? "Yes, he should not go anywhere without me". "All right, are you done"? "No, one other thing. If I get a single scratch on me, Genie, I want him to go crazy with grief". Genie said, "All right, is that it"? She said, "Yes," and poof the genie made her into a smartphone.

Ah, smartphones. Man, have they ever changed our life. You know, instead of making us smarter, I think smartphones have made us more stupid. Would you agree? There was a article in "Inc. Magazine" that had this headline: "We lost; the gadgets won". They pointed out that the average smartphone user unlocks their phones 150 times a day, 85% of smartphone users check their phones while speaking to family and friends. Have you ever had someone do that? You're telling them something important, you're pouring your heart out to them and they're just, you know, scrolling or checking their texts, or whenever their phone chirps or vibrates they have to look at it. It's sort of interrupting life in general. And I think in many ways, smartphones are making us relationally dumb. Take some of the social media platforms like Facebook which, of course, also owns Instagram.

On an average month, 2.8 billion people are using Facebook. And there's a news story out right now, you might have heard it, that Facebook did some internal research among the people that use their platform and asked them some questions, and these answers came back but they never published it. But I believe someone leaked it and here's what they found out: 32% of girls who use Instagram say it made them feel worse about their bodies if they were already having insecurities. And also, this research revealed that teenagers blamed Instagram for increases in their anxiety and depression. Thirteen percent of British users and six percent of American users trace their suicidal feelings to Instagram. Those are fascinating and alarming statistics.

There's an organization called Cigna. It's a global health service and they recently interviewed 20.000 people and came up with these conclusions: number one, half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone. Number two, only half of Americans have meaningful, in-person social interactions on a daily basis, and thirdly, Generation Z is the loneliest generation of all generations and is in the worst health of any generation. So what is the solution to all of this? I think, number one, it reveals that we need God and we need each other. You see, you were not meant to do life alone. As it has been said, no man is an island. We need interaction. We were built for community. God wired us that way. In fact, the first thing that God said is not good in the Bible is the aloneness of man. He said, "Not good is the aloneness of man". We need each other.

Proverbs 27, verse 17 says: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another". Ecclesiastes 4:9 reminds us: "Two are better than one, and if either of them falls down, they other can help them up". And Harvard's Women's Health Watch recently reported this, and I quote: "Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier and they have fewer health problems and they live longer". So again, we're built for a relationship with God and with other people. And this is where the church comes in. The church is not a building. It's people. It's God's people gathering together, and the church is like an oasis of hope in a desert of hopelessness. The church is a place where you will find interaction, encouragement, and it's a place where you will find yourself mentally and spiritually and even physically healthier than you have ever been before.

Time Magazine actually ran an interesting article titled, "The Benefits of Faith in the Church". And here are some of their observations. They said, number one, "Heart surgery patients who draw comfort from their faith have a significantly higher survival rate than those who do not. Secondly, the blood pressure of people who attend church is lower than those who don't. Thirdly, people who have faith and attend church on a regular basis experience less depression than people who don't attend church. And finally, suicide is four times higher among non-church goers than church goers". So, going to church is not only good for you spiritually. Apparently, it's good for you physically and even mentally. Remember, Jesus himself started the church. Of the church, which means, by the way, "called out ones". Of the church, Jesus says, "This is my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it".

I bring this up because, here in the book of Acts, we're looking now at the birth of the early church. This is the original template for the church. This is the church that Jesus started. This is the church that turned their world upside down. And I've titled this message, "Better Together," because together this church prayed together, this church worshiped together, this church studied the Word of God and together this church shared the gospel and again, together, this church, it changed the world. So here now is the early church and we wanna see how they lived their lives and how they impacted their world.

So let's look at Acts 2:42. I'm gonna read down to verse 47 and, by the way, I'm reading from the New King James Version. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together," you might underline that. They were together. "They had all things in common, they sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. Continuing daily," you might underline that phrase. "Continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved".

Now, there are some very important takeaway truths about this first century church that should be true of any church today, and for that matter, they should be true of us as individuals. If you're taking notes, here's point number one: they were a learning church. They were a learning church. Listen, if you wanna be a strong Christian and if you wanna be in a strong church, it has to be a church that focuses on the Word of God. To those of us who are called to preach and teach the Word of God, 2 Timothy 4 reminds us, "Preach the Word of God. Be persistent whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching for a time is coming," Paul warns, "when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They'll follow their own desires and look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear".

The Bible says one of the signs of the last days is people will have an itch for novelty. Oh boy, is that true right now. Seems like people get on these websites that have conspiracy-type theories and sometimes they're sort of wrapped in Bible prophecy so it makes them seem like they're something we should be aware of as Christians. And people will pass this information around and it seems like they have a greater interest in all of these theories than they do in the Word of God. Look, my job is to teach you the Word of God. I'm not a political pundit. I am not an entertainer. I am not a motivational speaker. I'm called to be a preacher of the Word of God, and I'm thankful he's called me to do this. And that's what a church should focus on: focus on the Word of God. What did they concentrate on? We read it was the apostles' doctrine. So this was a church that was learning the Word of God.

You know, I think we need strong preaching in the church today, but I think we also need strong listening. Look at verse 42: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers". This phrase, "continued steadfastly," speaks of a passion. See, they had a passion. Let me ask you: what are you passionate about? Everybody's passionate about something. Some people are passionate about sports. Not me; I could care less about sports. I know I probably have to turn my man card in but I'm just telling you, I never cared that much about sports but, boy, some people, that is what is what really fires them up. Other people are passionate about movies. "Have you seen this movie? Oh, this is the greatest movie". Other people are passionate about music, their favorite band, their favorite artist. Other people are passionate about food. Other people, it's politics. Oh, get on the subject of politics and they light up. Okay, listen, here's my question. Are you passionate about Jesus? Because your passion for Jesus should be greater than your passion for anyone or anything else.

Number two, they were a loving church. They were a loving church. Verse 42 of Acts 2 says they continued in fellowship. See, the more we get to know God and his Word, the more we will want to share it with others. Listen to this: God really likes it when we talk about him to other people. He likes it when we have what the Bible calls fellowship together. This is a unique word that is used here for fellowship. It's the word "koinonia". It's not the easiest word to translate. It can translate "fellowship," "communion". But it's a word that speaks of a special kind of communication that happens among followers of Jesus Christ. Fellowship is praying together, and that early church prayed. They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine, the breaking of bread and prayers, Acts 2 tells us. They prayed constantly, they prayed about everything and we'll explore that more as we go through the book of Acts together. They served together. At times, they suffered together. They were blessed together, they aged together. These are the fibers of fellowship.

Listen to this: when you're walking with God, you'll be walking with God's people, and when you're not walking with God, you probably won't have much to do with God's people. Really, your reaction to being around Christians says a lot about you spiritually. I found that when you're in tight fellowship with the Lord, you love to gather with other Christians. Listen, the stronger your vertical fellowship, the stronger your horizontal fellowship will be. So, vertical relationship, your relationship with God. That affects your horizontal fellowship. Also makes a cross, doesn't it? Now, some people say, "Well, I don't know about the church. I don't really like the church. I don't wanna be a part of the church. There are so many hypocrites in the church". Hey, there's always room for one more. Now, come on, let's be honest. These are excuses that we often use. Some people will say, "When I go to church, I feel like people are judging me".

Let me say something some of you may not like. Maybe you need to be judged a little. What do you mean? The Bible says: "Judge not lest you be judged". Everyone knows that verse. Very few people understand that verse. When Jesus said, "Judge not lest you be judged," he was not saying we should not make evaluations or judgments, if you will. The better translation would be "Condemn not lest you be condemned". If you went to a church and you were condemned or rejected, I apologize. That is not a good representation of Jesus Christ. But having said that, if you went to a church and you were living outside of the will of God or you were engaged in some sinful activity and some Christian had the courage and the love to confront you, that's a good thing, not a bad thing. Because the Bible says: "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful". You see, when you love someone you'll tell 'em the truth because the Bible also says: "Open rebuke is better than secret love".

A true friend will tell you the truth and if you're wearing the worst outfit of all time and you ask your friend for their opinion and they tell you the truth, "Don't wear that," or "Hey, man, you got a stain in the middle of your shirt," that's a true friend. That's a good thing, you see? And a true Christian friend will say, "You shouldn't be living that way. You shouldn't be doing that thing you're doing. You shouldn't be saying those things you're saying, because I love you". See, we could use a little judgment of that kind. And the Bible says: "Judgment begins at the house of God". See, the church is a place to be accountable. Maybe that's why we don't wanna be in a church. We don't want someone to hold us accountable, but it's good to be held accountable. This is one reason why people church-hop, "Oh, I don't go to that church anymore. You know, I don't like what people said to me. Now I go to this church but I'm leaving this church in a week and I'm going to another church". Always changing, never getting stabilized. So this first century church, they were a learning church, they were a loving church.

Here's point number three: They were a worshiping church. Look at verse 47: "Praising God and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved". The Bible says that God inhabits the praises of his people. And listen, when we're worshiping God, we're doing what God created us to do. You're wired to worship. Everyone worships something or someone. You bow at some altar. The real question is who do you worship? Democrats worship, Republicans worship, Independents worship. Christians worship. Even atheists worship, but what do they worship? Well, the Christian worships the Lord and we understand one of the greatest ways to do that is lifting our voice in song. The Christian church is a singing church. And you find the worship of God expressed in song from Genesis to Revelation.

In fact, when we get to heaven, according to Revelation 15, we're going to be worshiping the Lord. We read in Revelation 15: "They sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb. And they cried out, 'Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty.'" Now let's be honest, there are times we don't feel like worshiping. Hebrews 13:16, 'scuse me, 15, says: "By Him let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name". Sometimes, our praise will be a sacrifice. Sometimes, we praise God even when we don't feel like it. Do you think Job felt like praising God when he lost his family, and he lost his livelihood, and he lost his health? But yet, we read that Job worshipped God and said, "Naked came I into this world, naked go I out. Blessed be the name of the Lord". That's called a sacrifice of praise.

The Bible says: "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good and his mercy endures forever". It does not say: "Give thanks to the Lord when you feel good". But listen to this. Did you know your worship is a witness? Look at verse 47 of Acts 2 again: "Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved". Listen, there's a direct connection between worship of God and our witness to the world. Consider this: if all of your Bible study and fellowship and worship does not make you wanna share your faith, something is wrong. Evangelism is a natural overflow of a Spirit-filled life, because when we worship God as Christians, it's a witness to a lost world. Example: Paul and Silas were whipped for preaching the gospel. They were thrown into a Roman dungeon and yet we read in the book of Acts at midnight Paul and Silas began to sing praises to God and then we read, "And the other prisoners were listening. A great earthquake came, the walls collapsed".

Paul and Silas were released and they could have run, but the jailer who would imprison them was ready to take his life because to lose your prisoners would have been a death penalty, and Paul said, "Don't hurt yourself. We're still here". And that Roman jailer said, "What must I do to be saved"? So you're being watched by a lost world. You're being watched by people that don't know the Lord, and they wanna see what you do when adversity comes your way, when hardship comes your way. Maybe when you're laid off that job, maybe when you get sick, maybe when you face some other kind of challenge, how do you react to it? And if you give glory to God and don't lose your faith through it, that's a powerful witness to those people. Here's a question for you to think about. If a non-believer were to watch your everyday life, would they want to know more about Jesus or less? Let me ask that again. If a non-believer were to watch your everyday life, would they want to know more or less about Jesus Christ?

So they were a learning church. They were a loving church. They were a worshiping church. And one final point: they were an evangelistic church. An evangelistic church, which means they shared their faith. Look at verse 47: "The Lord added people daily to the church who were being saved". Listen, the early church's evangelism was not sporadic or an occasional activity. Just as their worship was daily, so was their witness. And the result was a constant flow of new believers in the church. You show me a church that does not have a constant flow of new believers, and I'll show you a church that is stagnating. Sometimes, churches grow through church transfer growth. In other words, people leave one church to join this church. Then they leave that church, they join another church, and it's just people moving around. That's not the kind of church growth I wanna see. The greatest church growth is people coming to Christ.

I actually love it when I meet a brand new believer that doesn't know anything. They're like a blank slate and I can just say, "Well, let me explain what the Bible says about that". And when you see them hear these things for the first time, it's a joy to you. Here's why new believers are important in a church. New believers energize older believers, and older believers stabilize younger believers. You see, we need each other. The younger believer needs someone who's older and mature and their faith, who can mentor them, disciple them. And the older believer needs someone full of zeal and faith to remind them of how awesome it is to have this relationship with Jesus Christ. So we all have a part to play. We all have a role to fill.
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