James Merritt - Who Has My Password?
The most used term in the Bible to describe a follower of Jesus, found over 250 times, is the word disciple. And Jesus said that's why He came, to make disciples, and He also said, as He was leaving planet earth, that's the job of the church, to make disciples. Our church's mission statement is a reflection of that, and we've said it many times over these last several weeks. We're going to put it up on the screen again. It is to point people to Jesus and inspire them to live the cross shaped life. All right? I want you to say that with me again. To point people to Jesus and inspire them to live the cross shaped life.
Now, the first part of that statement really doesn't need a lot of explanation. I mean, that's pretty simple, pretty easy to understand. We are to point people to Jesus. We are to explain to people what we call the Gospel. We're to explain to people, "Hey, every person on earth is a sinner, every person on earth is a sinner who needs a savior, and that savior is Jesus". So, whether we're presenting the Gospel, or whether we're taking people through the Scriptures, or whether we're giving our personal testimony, our job, first and foremost, is to point people to Jesus. However, once you point someone to Jesus, that is not the end of the Christian life. It's just the beginning, because once you become a disciple, you ought to live like a disciple, you ought to show that you're a disciple, and we believe the way you do that is by what we call living the cross shaped life, and that's the series that we're in right now. We're actually answering the question, "What are the marks of a cross shaped life"?
In other words, if you say you are a follower of Jesus, you should ask yourself, am I living the kind of life that a follower of Jesus should live? If you're not a follower of Jesus, you have every right to ask this question. What is different about someone who is living like a disciple of Jesus, and what is it about the cross shaped life that would motivate me to say, you know, I think I want my life to reflect that, I want to live that same kind of life? And so, we believe that the way you know whether or not you're living that kind of life, and you really are a disciple, is to answer some questions. In fact, there are five of them that make up this series that we're in. Two weeks ago, we asked the first question, which is kind of the foundational question, which is, do I have a spiritual birth certificate?
Last week, we asked this question. Is my flashlight on? Now, frankly, you probably, if you didn't hear these messages, or you're not really a churchy kind of a person, you're probably sitting there going, I don't even understand what those questions are all about. If that's true, I would encourage you to get on a computer, or go to your iPad or whatever, and go to our website. It's called the crossshaped.life. Just go to that website. You can pick up where we're picking up today. You can go back and listen to those first two messages that we preached, and you'll understand why everybody needs a spiritual birth certificate, and once they get one, why their flashlight needs to be on. But today, we are asking the third question. Assuming you have a spiritual birth certificate, and assuming that your flashlight is on, the third question is this one.
Who has my password? Now, that may sound like kind of an odd kind of a question to ask in a series, except, never before in the history of the world, and in particularly our nation, have passwords ever been more important to everyday living than they are today. I mean, you think about it. Passwords are used for virtually every single thing we do online. They protect your identity on websites. They are the key to getting your bank information. They are key to making purchases if you want to buy something online at a store. They're the key to your e-mail accounts. I mean, passwords are so vital and so important, and if you want to access someone's personal and most intimate information, you get their password and you just opened the gateway to that person's heart. It is the gateway to some of the most private and personal information to who we are and what makes us tick.
Now, that raises a very important question, and I would be asking this, too. Okay, what does having a password have to do with the cross shaped life? What is the big deal about a password when it comes to living like a disciple of Jesus? Well, in order to answer that question, we've got to go back 2,000 years to when the church first got started, and disciples first started being made. So, if you've brought a copy of God's Word, I've got one here. You don't have to have one. If you've got a smartphone or an iPad, I want you to take your Bibles, or whatever you use, and I want you to turn to a Book called Acts. Now, you don't have to know anything about the Bible to know where Acts is. The Bible is divided up into two parts, Old and New Testaments. The New Testament begins with four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
The fifth Book in the New Testament is the Book of Acts. I want you to turn to Acts 2, and while you're kind of looking that passage up, let me kind of give you the background of what's going on here. The early church is just getting started. They're just getting off the ground. As a matter of fact, they haven't even celebrated their first one year birthday yet, and yet, in just a few short weeks, it has gone from a nucleus of about 120 to over 20,000 people. That's the good news. Here's the bad news. This was not a homogeneous crowd. The first generation of Christians was a potpourri of different cultures and different backgrounds. There were at least 15 different nationalities. There were Jews and Gentiles. There were men and women. There were rich and poor. There were Greeks and Romans. There were slave and free.
And so, how in the world was this melting pot of diversity of people from all over the place, who spoke all kinds of languages, who had all kinds of different cultures, how in the world was that melting pot of diversity ever going to be molded into a body of unity? Well, God's answer was absolutely genius, because it's so simple. Here's the solution. We're in Acts 2:46. "Every day, they", that is, these are the first disciples. These are the earliest followers of Jesus. "Every day, they continued to meet", and here's the big word, "together". "They began to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts".
See, here was the problem. They had a problem kind of like we have today, and it's kind of been going on for 2,000 years. How is the church going to persevere and keep the fires of Christianity burning in the face of a hostile world that wanted to rain down showers of cold water and stop this movement in its tracks? Because you have to understand, it really was them against the entire world. How were they going to make it? How were they not just going to survive, how where they going to thrive? Well, we turn a few chapters over, and we read something similar in Acts 5:42. "Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news, that Jesus is the Messiah".
Now, here's the picture I want you to get. Listen. Long before the church ever had baptisteries, or buildings, or budgets, they had kitchen tables. They had living rooms. They had kitchens. In other words, God says, I've got the solution. I know how to put a church together. I know how to get a church together. I know how to keep a church together, and I know how to hold a church together, and it's in two words. Community groups. Let that sink in. You're going, community groups? That's God's solution? Absolutely, and it worked like a charm because, think about it. You've got tens of thousands of people, brand new believers. They've just become followers of Jesus. They don't know each other. Most of them, they're not kin to each other, they're not running into each other. They speak different languages, different cultures, got different ideas about different things, and there are no church buildings like we have today.
As a matter of fact, there is no record of any church building at all until somewhere about the early to mid-third century. So, where did the church meet? How did they come together? How did they get together? How did they stay together? They did it in community groups. Now, let me tell you why these groups are so important, both to the life of the church, corporately, and to every believer, individually. Because that is where relationships are built, and that is where friendships are formed. Now, you say, well, why is that so important? Because relationships are the glue that holds everything together. If you've got a strong family, it's because you've got strong relationships in that family. If you've got a strong business with happy employees, it's because you've got strong relationships in your business. Relationships are what hold cultures together. They're what hold societies together.
And by the way, relationships have become a very important commodity in the 21st century, because the name of the game today is me, I, one. We are living in the most individualized culture we've ever known in the history of our country. Because of social media, because of computers, because of the Internet, we have become more individualized in the history of our country than ever, ever before. You literally, if you want to, practically speaking, live your life alone without ever having any interaction, hardly, with any other human being. In fact, consider this. This is kind of fascinating. The number of people who go to bars, and nightclubs, and taverns, to just hang out, is down 40% over the last 16 years.
The number of full service restaurants, this is since the new millennium, the number of full service restaurants has decreased 25%, but the number of fast food outlets has increased 100%. Having a social evening with someone in your neighborhood, you know, just kind of walking across the street, knocking on your door, sitting out on the front porch, getting in a rocking chair, it's down 30%. Attending social clubs, meetings... Remember, you know, the Kiwanis Club? Do your remember the Rotary Club? Down 58%. This breaks my heart. Family dinners, down 33%. Having friends over to your home, down 45%. See, we don't talk anymore. We tweet, we text, but there's no relationship. These days are dying before our very eyes, and the reason why, again, the church didn't just survive, but thrive, is because they realized, we need community. We've got to have relationships, and here's the amazing thing. Nobody told them to come together. They just did, because somehow they knew from the very get-go, Christianity is a team sport. This thing is not to be done alone. God never meant for it to be done alone. We really do need each other. There is strength in numbers.
Now, listen carefully. You may become a Christian alone, but you should not live the Christian life alone, and you were never meant to live the Christian life alone. And, Acts 2 gives us a snapshot of how the early church did life together, and how they willingly gave other people the most intimate passwords that they had so that they could forge friendships and they could build relationships that would help them get through life, and here's what I want to show you today. They did three things in their community groups that we all need to do together if we're going to be most effective in pointing people to Jesus and inspiring them to live the cross shaped life. They did three things together in groups. I'm talking about groups. They did three things together, and it became like a glue. It became like a cement. It actually became like kerosene to the fire of their Christian faith that helped them to accomplish all of the great things they did for God, and will help us do exactly the same thing.
Number one, we should worship together, in groups. We should worship together. Now, whenever the early church got together, here's the first thing they did. Listen to the way Dr. Luke puts it. "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer". Now, it's not hard to figure out. When they got together, they studied the Word of God together. They ate together. They fellowshipped together. They took meals together. They prayed together. They talked to the Lord together. They shared their burdens and problems together. So, in the beginning, the early church was committed to doing life together.
Now, listen, this is so important. Don't miss this. When you give your life to Jesus, you don't just commit yourself to Christ, you commit yourself to other Christians. It is not a lone ranger type of thing. It was meant to be done together. They were not just committed to a personal relationship with God, they were committed to a personal relationship with each other. And by the way, do you notice how strong this language is? It wasn't that they just casually came together when they had time. It wasn't that they said, well, we've got nothing else to do, so let's just kind of hang out together.
We read these words. "They devoted themselves" to fellowship. In other words, they put a priority on their calendar. They could not even conceive of not being in a group together. They could not even conceive of trying to do Christianity alone. To try to do Christianity by yourself, to make Christianity kind of a do it yourself project, that never even entered into their minds. They just said, you know what, we need each other. And I want you to hear me carefully. You will never know how good you are at a certain sport unless you play with, and you play against, somebody else. You think about it. Every major sport that people watch, every one of the major sports, football, basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, I could go on and on. Every major sport is designed not to be played by yourself. It's not designed to be played alone. It's always designed to be played with other people and against other people, and this is why this is so important.
Listen. Others need to know that you're growing spiritually, and you need to show others that you're growing spiritually. You don't need to just benefit from your growth alone. Others need to benefit as well, and by the way, I know there are some of you out there, and I get it. You know, you're kind of like this when we talk about groups, and you've never been in a group, and you're not going to get into a group. We could not pay you, well, maybe some of you, but for the most part, we could not pay you to be in a group. Can I just say this? I don't mean to hurt your feelings. I'm not trying to make you upset. I'm just being honest with you. If you're one of those people out there and you kind of think, you know, I'm pretty good to go in my Christian faith. I think I've kind of got it figured out. I don't really need a crutch. I don't really need a community group to get it. I think I'm kind of good to go.
Let me just say this. If you really think that way, here's what you're really saying. I'm really better than Jesus, because Jesus was in a community group His entire ministry. One of the major goals we're going to have in our church and in our staff, every year, is this: We want 100% participation of those people who attend our church to be in a community group. As a matter of fact, can I be honest? I'd rather have more people in community groups than I have attend our church. Do you know why? Because that means I've got people who are not a part of our church in groups. That means I've got people who don't know Christ who are coming to our groups. So quite frankly, that would suit me just fine. Now, realistically, are we ever going to get there? Probably not, but we're going to keep trying. But, I will make you one promise. You will never, ever be what you should be as a disciple, you will never, ever enjoy all of the benefits you should of a church, and you will never, ever be the encouragement that you ought to be to other believers, if you do not get into a community group.
Number one, we must, and should, worship together. Now, here's the second thing we need to do. We should walk together. Not only should we worship together, we should walk together. Now, you talk about giving out your password? You talk about opening your life up to a group of people? You talk about giving people your most intimate information? Listen to what these early Christians did for each other. Every time I read this, it blows my mind! "All of the believers were", there's that word again, "together, and they had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need". Now, you see these two words here? It says they "were together".
Do you see those words? They were together. As a matter of fact, do you know what you'd say about Christians? Man, everywhere these Christians go, they're like packs of wolves. They go together. They did everything together. They took meals together. They went to the temple together. They gathered in homes together. They worshipped together. They studied the Word of God together. They prayed together. They physically bore each other's burdens together. There are two things that you can get and you can give in a community group you will never get and you will never give anywhere else. One is accountability, because let me tell you.
Listen, and I know this, that you don't think I've got your game figured out. I do. You can walk into this building, one Sunday, two Sundays, three Sundays, four, maybe five. And then, you can miss the next Sunday, and the next Sunday, and the next Sunday, and the next Sunday, as a matter of fact, never come back, and hardly anybody will know it. But, you go into a community group, and you miss even one week of that community group, guess what? They know it, and you're going to be getting a phone call. You're going to be getting an e-mail. You're going to be getting a contact. They're going to make sure you're all right. They're going to make sure that things are good, because you can't hide in a group, and you can't run in a group. You can hide in a worship center. You can run from a worship center. You can't do that when you do it in a group. One is accountability, but another thing you give and give best in a group is encouragement.
You know, one of the reasons why Teresa and I... I want to tell you one of the best things I've ever done in my life. I wish I'd done it 25, 30, 40 years ago. One of the best things I ever did is when, years ago, we finally formed a home group and got into a group. It's one of the best things I've ever done, because we know, when we walk into our community group, we know we just walked into a group of people, we have their backs, and we know they have our backs. In fact, we have their backs so much, and they've got our backs so much, sometimes we ask for our back back! I mean, we really have our backs! And I can tell you, that everybody goes through tough times. My wife and I have.
Just recently, we've gone through some super tough times. We've got problems just like everybody else, and I just want to say, while I'm in the neighborhood, to my group, some of them are in the service here now. I just want to say to my group, I'm thankful for my group. And I'm thankful that you love me. I'm thankful that you care for me. I'm thankful I can share my deepest heartaches and burdens with you. I'm thankful that I can talk to you, knowing that you're going to pray for me, that you're going to love me, you're going to help me in any way that you can, knowing that what I get from you, I'm going to give to you. I am thankful that I am in my group, and I'm begging you, I'm really begging you. Get into a group where you can worship together. Get into a group where you can literally walk and do life together. But then, they did a third thing, and it's why the church exploded. We should witness together. We should witness together.
Now, if you don't think this is a genius idea that God had, if you don't think this group thing really, really works, if you don't think God really didn't know what He was doing, if you don't think there was not a method to His madness, listen to what happened in the early church. "Every day, they continued to meet", here's that word again, can't get away from it, "They continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes. They ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God". Now, watch this. "They were enjoying the favor of all of the people". People were looking back that were hungry for relationships, and hungry for fellowship, and hungry for friendship, and they were saying, man, I wish I had that in my life! And, here's what happened. "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved".
People were looking at these people meeting in their homes, happy, loving each other, bearing one another's burdens, sharing their password, and they would knock on doors and say, excuse me, you got room for one more? Can I come in and give this a shot? I don't have this in my neighborhood. I don't have this in my life. I've got problems, and I'll be honest with you, I'm tired of riding this donkey alone. Can I get somebody to ride with me? That's why the early church exploded. You see, what were all of those people doing, both inside their homes and outside their homes? Are you ready? Here's what they were doing. They were shining their flashlight together.
That's how the early church grew. They would get into those community groups. They'd love each other. They'd study the Word of God together. They'd pray together. They'd encourage each other. They would lift each other up. They would fire each other up, and then, they'd leave and they'd go to their places of business, and they'd go to where they did their grocery shopping, and they'd get out of their neighborhoods, and they would just shine their flashlight. Man, you ought to come be a part of our group. You ought to see what God's doing in our church. Let me tell you what Jesus has done in my life. And all they were doing was just worshipping together, and walking together, and witnessing together.
The Christian life is being lived in a world today that's hostile to the Gospel, hostile to Jesus, hostile to biblical truth. And we don't need to go it alone, we don't have to go it alone, and we really can't go it alone. And just as Jesus left heaven and came to earth, and died on a cross so He could put His arms around our shoulders and forgive us of our sin and make us a part of His family, we need to get into community groups so that we can link arms with other believers as we walk through life together. Yep, there are people right now, somebody sitting in front of you, somebody sitting behind you, somebody sitting beside you. You'll walk out with someone, you don't even know their name, and they're sucking air in their life, and their life is about to go literally into the pot, and they just need somebody to just put their arm around their shoulder and say, Bro, Sis, we're in this together. That's what we do in community groups. We need you. You need them.