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James Merritt - Car Pool

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    James Merritt - Car Pool

You may take a vacation but in a way you really don't. Most of us have the kind of jobs that even when you're on vacation you gotta call, you gotta check in, you gotta, you know, get on the email. You've gotta do that. You provide for your family. You don't get a break from providing for your family. You're a parent, you don't get a break from being a parent. We're learning if you're a grandparent you don't even get a break from being a grandparent. You never get a break from doing life and doing what you know that you need to do. We're just like Jesus. And we've got all these demands on us and, quite frankly, we need to recharge on a daily basis. We need to reengage on a daily basis.

And one of the ways that Jesus would recharge his spiritual batteries was he would get in this small group of 12 men and he would teach them and he would encourage them and they would pray for him and they would encourage him. Because Jesus did not lead the Christian life alone and he taught his disciples they were not to live the Christian life along. And by the way, that's one of the main reasons we're here right now. That's one of the main reasons why there are churches all over the world right now because I wanna ask you a question. How did Christianity and how has it survived for 2000 years? Because you go back to the early church and if you really study it, you wouldn't really give it much of a chance for the church to ever make it past a few years.

I mean, why didn't the movement stop when Jesus went back to heaven? Why didn't the movement stop with those 11 disciples, you know, he lost one so he only wound up with 11? How did a few disciples morph into what is now a church with 2.2 billion people, one out of every three people, who claim to be a part of that church? Well, the secret is found in the book of Acts and if you brought a copy of God's Word I want you to turn to Acts chapter 2. Now if you don't know where the book of Acts is, don't worry. Two parts to the Bible: Old Testament, New Testament. We're in the New Testament. There are four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Go past them, you'll hit the book of Acts. We're in Acts chapter 2. And here's the secret. Early church, just getting started. It's exploded in growth. In just a few short weeks, it's gone from 11 disciples to 120 disciples to 20,000 disciples.

You say, "Wow, that's great". Yeah, but it's not so great because it wasn't a homogenous crowd. That would have been kind of easy. There were 15 different cultures and nationalities and backgrounds represented in those 20,000 people. There were Jews and Gentiles, there were men and women, there were free and slave, there were rich and poor, and there were Greeks and there were Romans. Now, it's one thing to come together. Anybody can do that. It's another thing to stay together. It's one thing to stay together, but it's another thing to grow together and the church just kept growing. So the question is how did it happen? How did they go from 11 to 120 to 20,000 to 400,000 to now 2.2 billion people? How did that happen? Acts chapter 2, verse 46: "Every day they continued to meet," let's say these words together. "Meet together". Let's say it again. "Meet together". Big word, "In the temple courts. They broke bread in their", say that word with me, "Homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts".

I told you to say three words together: they were together in homes. They were together in homes. In other words, they went from a large group to a small group. They did what I call car pool Christianity. How many of you ever car pool? All right, you know what I'm talking about, right? This is what I call car pool Christianity because long before the church ever had buildings or budgets or even baptisms or baptistries, they had kitchens and dinner tables and living rooms. I mean, think about it. Tens of thousands of people have become followers of Jesus. They don't have a church building like we meet in. As a matter of fact, we don't have any history of any church building ever being built before the late 3rd century. So that means for almost 300 years people had church but they didn't have a church. They had church but they did not have a church.

So here's a question. Where did they meet? We just saw it. They met in homes. They met in small groups. That's how they came together, that's how they got together. That's how they stayed together and that's how they grew together. They did it in small groups. And the reason why the early church didn't just survive but they thrived is because they understood we've got to build community and we've got to establish relationships and that will only happen in a small group. And they understood and learned their lesson real well that Jesus taught them. You don't come to the Christian faith... you may come to the Christian faith alone, you cannot live the Christian faith alone. I'm gonna say that again. You may come to the Christian faith alone, you cannot live the Christian faith alone. There are certain destinations we believers will never reach if we don't do it together.

There are certain ministries we need to do that we'll never do unless we do it together. There are certain activities that we need to perform that we'll never get done unless we do it together. And so in this little passage of Scripture I wanna show you three things that we ought to be doing together and we do together best when we do it in small groups. Okay, you ready? Number one, we are to seek God's glory together. We are to seek God's glory together. Now, we're gonna skip now back up to verse 42: "They devoted themselves," that's important. "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer".

Now, let me just stop right there. I want you to notice they didn't get together just when it was convenient. They didn't get together in their small group just when they didn't have anything else to do. They didn't get together in a small group when there was just no other place to go. They devoted themselves to coming together. They said, "You know what? This is a priority for us. We're gonna put this to the top of our to-do list. When our small group comes together we're going to be there. We're gonna put this, one of the first things on our calendar, goes right there". As a matter of fact, the early Christians, they couldn't even conceive of being in a small group. To come to church one hour a week in a big building like this and then leave and just not have any interaction with the believers in that church for a whole week, that wasn't even in their mind. They could not even conceive of that. They said, "You know what? You cannot do Christianity alone".

Now, this is important. When they did get together in these small groups, they didn't just meet it, eat it, and beat it. They got together, they studied God's Word together. They took meals together. They talked to the Lord together. They shared hurts and heartaches together. They said, "You know what? We can't do life by ourselves. We're going to do life together".

Now, this is so important. I want you to hear this. The first Christians were not just committed to Christ. If you're committed to Christ I'm glad you are. I'm glad you're a believer. I'm glad you're a follower of Jesus, but listen. The early Christians were not just committed to Christ. They were committed to other Christians. They were committed to other believers. Their attitude was not, "Hey, I've got Jesus. I've got mine. You get yours". Their attitude was not, "Well, I'm gonna grow whether you grow or not". No, here's what their attitude: "I'm gonna grow but I want you to grow with me. You're gonna grow, I want you to grow with me. I wanna help you grow. I want you to help me grow. I've got burdens I need you to help carry. You've got burdens I need to help you carry. Let's do this together".

What you get in a small group is mom-and-pop Christianity. That's what you get. You'll get a friendly atmosphere, you'll get home Bible cooking. Really, this is where the local people go. That's what you get. When you get into a small group, you go deeper with God, you learn more about God. You grow closer to each other. You learn more about each other. You get to share hurts. You get to share heartaches. You get to share problems. You get to share all kinds of troubles and, listen, let me tell you something. If I had the time and I could talk to everybody in this room right now and I could just go one-on-one, let me talk to you long enough, I'm gonna tell you two things I'll find out about every single person without exception. Everybody's had heartache and everybody's got problems. Everybody's had heartache, everybody's got problems. I can tell you right now, I've had my share of heartache, I got problems.

If you're sitting there right now and you say, "No, not me. I don't have a problem". You're your biggest problem. Everybody's got problems. And let me tell you something. You don't even need to try to handle that heartache alone. You don't even need to try to solve that problem alone. That's why these groups are so very, very, very important because it's in that group you get to love people. And you get people to love you. And you get to learn about God together. Let me just stop right here and say this 'cause some of you right now, I mean, listen, I know, I've been around the block too many times. You're sitting there, saying, "Say what you wanna say. I'm not getting in a small group. I'm not doing it. I'm gonna come here for one hour and I'm done".

I just wanna say this to you. If you really think that you don't need to be in a small group of other disciples, I would just share this with you. You are no better than Jesus the Son of God who was in a small group for three years. So if Jesus needed to be in a small group, yes, you need to be in a small group. As a matter of fact, let me tell you how important this is to God. Has it ever occurred to you that before the world was even created there was a small group? It begins with the letter "T". Anybody tell me what that is? Yeah, the Trinity. Even God said, "You know what? I'm not gonna exist alone. I'm not gonna do this alone". There's God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Yes, he's one person but he's in three beings. So even there, in eternity, there was a small group so we are to seek God's glory together in groups.

Number two, we are to show God's goodness together in groups. We are to show God's goodness. Now, what you're about to read next really, in my opinion, is the secret sauce explaining why the early church had such unbelievable success and such exponential growth 'cause you really wanna know. What was the dynamite that blew this thing up? What was the fuel that really took this fire to another level? Listen to what we read now in verses 44 and 45: "All the believers were together and they had everything in common". That doesn't just mean, you know, they liked Georgia football or anything like that. There's more than that. "They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need".

Now, I want you all to watch this now. "They were together," right? They were together. They weren't just being together. They weren't just hanging out together. they were ministering together. They were literally and physically making it through life together. It's one of the most amazing pictures of the early parts of the church and Christianity you'll ever read anywhere. Here's people, some who had a lot but not many. Most of them had a little. And here were people, some had something and some had nothing, and yet everybody came together and everybody looked each other in the eye and said, "What's mine's yours. Need it? Take it. You need a pair of shoes, I got six. Help yourself. You need a shirt, I got four. Take what you need. What's mine is yours. Take anything that you need".

Now let me just stop right here. This was not communism. Nobody forced this to happen. This was not socialism. Robin Hood wasn't robbing from the rich to give to the poor. It wasn't even capitalism, they weren't selling to each other at a Christian discount. They just realized who they were. They realized what they had. They realized that they were what they were and they had what they had because of the goodness of God and they just wanted to share that goodness with other people. Now you know why they were able to do that so freely? You know why they could all come together and say, "Absolutely, whatever you need that I've got, it's yours"?

I'll tell you why. Yes, it does take time to be in a small group. I grant that. Yeah, it does take an hour or two hours every week. I understand that. But let me tell you what happens in a small group. You get together with a smaller group of people and you start getting to know a smaller group of people and you start to love that small group of people. And then you start to trust that small group of people. And when you know somebody and you trust somebody and you love somebody, you'll give them whatever they need. It's just easy to do. And what you're looking at in this picture is fellowship and friendship on steroids. And let me just say this again. You will never get this in this room. It won't happen. You will never get this in one hour a week in this worship center. You will only get it in a small group.

And by the way, remember something. Everything was stacked against the early church ever getting off the ground. They had zero political influence. They had very little money. They had no military power backing them at all. They had no organizational hierarchy. They had no buildings. As a matter of fact, many people thought they were whack jobs. Many people thought they were a cult. And if you decided to join that group, if you decided, say, "I'm gonna go all in with Jesus," you ran the risk of being socially ostracized, politically persecuted, physically tortured, or personally imprisoned. Yet, couldn't stop it. They were growing like weeds. The question is, how do you explain that? It's so easy. While Christianity didn't have any of the normal strengths and powers that you normally associate with a great movement, they had two qualities that I mean drew people to them like a magnet draws iron and it's something we need to remember as a church today. You ready?

Watch this. They were gracious to negative people and they were generous to needy people. They were gracious to negative people and they were generous to needy people. You know what a lot of churches do? We do just the opposite. People criticize us, you know, they hit us, we hit 'em back harder, right? We yell, scream, spit, snort. You know, "You're gonna burn in hell like a Oscar Mayer wiener," I mean, all that kind of stuff. We're so, you know, but when it comes to being generous, we can, "No, this is just us four and no more". Early church was totally different. We're gonna be gracious to negative people and we're gonna be generous to needy people. When it came to wealth, here's what's so beautiful. They had a little but they gave a lot. They had a little but they gave a lot. And in those small groups, in those small groups, they showed God's goodness in a big way and so should we.

You know, think about it. When it came to money, they had a little but they gave a lot. But when it came to criticism, they took a lot but they gave very little. They showed God's goodness in those groups. And then the last thing they did was this, and we are to do it. We are to share God's grace together. We're to show God's goodness together, seek God's glory together. We are to share God's grace together. Now, here's my question to you, okay? We already seen what they did, right? They came together, they stayed together, they were together, they walked together, they worked together. They gave together. Everybody had their needs met. They were breaking bread together, they were eating in their homes, they were fellowshipping, they were studying God's Word.

What happened as a result of all of that? Watch this: "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple court". That was their worship service. They'd come together. Everybody come together at temple court. But then they would break apart and they would go and "break bread in their homes, ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people". Now, watch what God did. "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved".

Now watch this. This is big. So where was the early church having all this influence with all these unbelievers so that people every day were being saved? Okay, you ready? Not in the church. Not in the temple court. Not in the building. No, they were having influence outside the church, outside the temple court, in their small groups. And you know why people were being saved? It's not just because those small groups were seeking God's glory together and it wasn't just because they were showing God's goodness together. It was because they were sharing God's grace together. They were worshiping together, they were walking together, and they were witnessing together. In other words, the early church didn't wait 'til Sunday to grow. The early church grew every day of the week. People were being saved every single day.

Now, let me stop right here and tell you. I don't believe there's a believer listening to me right now and, by the way, if you're not a believer, you can be at a small group. You don't have to be a believer to be in a group. In fact, if you're not a believer, we'd love to have you in our group. But I don't believe there is a believer listening to me right now, in fact, I'll go further. I don't think there's a believer on planet Earth that cannot be in somebody's small group. Now, you may say, I know, somebody, I know some of you have jobs, say, "Hey, Doc. I leave here, I go home, I pack, I get on a plane, I fly out. I'm not back 'til Friday night. I don't have a lot of time". That's great. We have campus groups. You can meet right here. Just come here one hour early, be in a campus group. You're good to go.

So I really do, I mean, I really do believe this. We've got groups on campus, we've got 'em off campus. We've got 'em on Sundays, we've got 'em different days of the week. We wanna help every way we can. We wanna help every way we can to get everyone involved in a group because we need to seek God's glory, show God's goodness, and share God's grace together. Now, two things, I'm done. One of the most popular terms that's used in the New Testament to describe believers is the word "saint". As a matter of fact, that word is used 99 times in the New Testament to describe believers. We talked about this before. You may not feel like you're a saint but if you are a believer, you are a saint, okay? You're a saint.

Now, Jack, I still find it hard to believe that Florida Gators can be saints. I'm working through that. I'm just working through that. To me, a saint Gator is just an oxymoron. To me, that's just me. But that's a personal conversation we'll have later. Here's the point. Every single time that you read the word "saint" in the New Testament, are you ready for this? Every time, go check it out yourself, it's always plural. You never read the word "saint" in the singular; it is always plural. You never read the word "saint"; you read the word "saints". It's almost like God is saying, "You can't have just one". In other words, let me put it to you this way: saints ain't. Saints ain't. They always come in groups.

So this is the last thing. I love to share with you things that I learn and I try to learn all the time and I'm, you know, Teresa knows, I'm a voracious reader. Read all the time. I'll read in bed, I'll read out of bed. I just read all the time. I'm always reading something. I read something the other day I didn't know. I've been studying the Bible for, I dunno how many years, 50-plus years. I didn't know this. If you go back and read the New Testament, read the Gospels, every time it talks about Jesus getting up in the morning or doing something and starting off a day, this is without exception. I never saw this, never knew this, 'til I read this last week. Every time Jesus began a morning, he would do three things in this order.

First of all, he would get alone with his heavenly Father. He'd have time just with his Father. He'd be in the Word, he'd be praying, he'd have time with his heavenly Father. Then, he would connect with his disciples in ministry and in community. They would teach, they would talk together, they would pray together. Only after he had his quiet time with his heavenly Father, his time alone with the Lord, and only after he spent time with his disciples in a group, then he would go out and do ministry. In other words, he would get refueled every day by first communion with God and in connection with his group.

Now, let me tell you why that blew my mind. If you've been here over the last three weeks, if you're in here for the series that we've been in that we've called "Refuel," if you've been here, guess what? The first two weeks, what did we talk about? Reading your Bible, having time with God. First thing. What are we talking about today? Being in a group. What are we gonna think we're gonna talk about next week? It's the third thing that Jesus did after he did the first two things.

And so help me, I didn't know that. When I planned this series, I had no idea. So all we're saying is this. The way that the Son of God refueled himself every day is the same way we need to do it: read our Bible, spend time with God, get into a group and stay connected to a group, and then next week we're gonna share this last thing. So I wanna close with this: Jesus came into this world. We all know this, we've heard it a million times. Jesus came into this world to die for our sins. We all know that. And we all know that three days later he came back from the dead. We all know that. But I want you to understand what follows.

Jesus did not come into this world to die for our sins and come back from the dead to lead us into Lone Ranger Christianity. That's not why he did it. He came and died for us and he came back from the dead, first of all, so that we could join this big group called the family of God and then we could get into small groups so we could know what community and fellowship and friendship is all about. So to put it simply, if Jesus, the Son of God, who created all this. If he existed in a small group from eternity and if he felt like his time on earth he needed to be in a small group here, how much more do we?
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