We also become an effective and vital church day by day. While we can read books on how to develop leaders and structure ourselves for mission and ministry, and while we can attend conferences to become better equipped and empowered to be the church of Jesus Christ, we actually learn how to be the church and we grow as a church day by day. It is daily living together and walking together that strengthens and builds the church, but this daily growth doesn’t just happen, it happens as we intentionally live out our faith. In Acts 2 we are given a pretty complete list of things that will help us grow day by day so let’s look at some of these simple daily routines that can strengthen us in our faith and help us become the community of faith that God desires us to be.
As we look at Acts 2, we see that the very first thing we need if we want to grow is to learn more – they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching. Deeper knowledge, truth and understanding is important. What the apostles were teaching was everything they had seen and heard and learned from Jesus. They talked about the miracles Jesus did and how he was crucified and then raised from the dead and how they then saw him rise into heaven. In time the apostles shared with others the teachings of Jesus which is why we have the Sermon on the Mount, the parables Jesus told and his teachings on prayer and forgiveness. These all came from the apostles who shared them and the first leaders who wrote them down. That the people devoted themselves to this teaching tells us that knowledge and truth is an important part of daily growth and effectiveness. If you think about it, this is true in most things.
I don’t know about you, but I want a doctor who is devoted to new teachings and is willing to learn new procedures and techniques. I want an accountant who has read the most recent tax laws and a teacher who is as informed as they can be. It doesn’t matter what field we are in, we need to be willing to keep learning and devote ourselves to continued education and being the best we can be, and the same is true for our faith. If we want to grow in our understanding of Jesus we need to devote ourselves to the teachings of Jesus and to the apostle’s teaching and to the teaching of faithful men and women throughout history. Our church library is filled with books that can help us grow in our faith and we need to devote ourselves to ongoing education. Sunday School classes, Bible studies and small groups are also places where we can learn and grow together and you don’t have to be an expert to be part of these groups, in fact you don’t need to know anything to join a group – these aren’t places to test your knowledge – these are places to listen and learn and grow.
But growth in knowledge is not all there is, twice here it says they also devoted themselves to the breaking of bread- Acts 2:43, 46.
We aren’t clear exactly what this means because breaking of bread has two different meanings. It could mean that they were simply eating together and sharing their meals together or it could mean that they were breaking bread in memory of Jesus breaking bread with them at the Passover, what we now call Communion. The truth is they did both of these things and both activities offered opportunities for growth because both activities could be seen as worship.
Eating meals together in peoples’ homes was an act of worship for the Jewish community. The Passover celebration was a meal shared in the home and many other Jewish feasts and celebrations would take place in the home with family and friends. These were moments of worship because the goodness and power of God were often lifted up and remembered. We should work to make eating together as a family and with friends an important part of our life and faith. There is so much formation that takes place when we eat together. Studies show that children learn manners, priorities and even a greater vocabulary when a family sits down and eats together on a regular basis. Community is formed when people share their food and homes with one another and certainly when we gather for communion in worship there is a bond and spiritual presence that unites us and shapes who we are. These times of eating together and breaking bread together were important for God’s people and they provided opportunities for daily growth because we have to eat daily.
Growth also takes place when we are willing to focus on the spiritual disciples of prayer, service and tithing. Again, we see that the people in the early church devoted themselves to prayer and prayer remains one of the most important ways we grow in our faith. Personal prayer and corporate prayer are important and while we often pray for God to move in others and in our world, why prayer is most important is because it gives God an opportunity to move in us. As we pray for someone who needs healing, God might move us to support them. When we pray for those who face persecution around the world, it might remind us that the struggles we face or small in comparison to what they face or it might move us to stand up and support those in need. When we pray for those we love to find hope and a deeper faith, God might strengthen us to be a witness to them of his love and grace. Prayer is also important because when we pray we are open to the spirit of God to move in us and if we do this day by day – God will strengthen us and shape us and grow us – day by day.
Service is also important for us to be involved in on a daily basis and the best place to start is at home. How can we serve our families every day? How can we serve our parents or children? How can we serve our brothers and sisters or grandparents? If we can’t serve in our homes among the people we love, I don’t know how we will be able to serve people beyond our home. Once we are serving our family how can we move out and serve those we work with or our neighbors? How can we serve those in need in our community on a regular basis or serve those in need around the world? Service is important not just because it helps meet the needs of others but because as we serve – we grow. (Sharing by Paul Neff and Linda Hoffman about our most recent Mission Trip to Oklahoma)
Another area where we all need to grow day by day is in giving to God. We often talk about tithing as a means by which we can make an offering to God through the church. The word tithe simple means one tenth and it is a biblical principle which says we should give 10% of our income to God. God has said that when we give Him the full tithe – He will open the floodgates of heaven and pour out his blessing upon us. So if we are willing to make this principle a cornerstone of our lives – God’s blessing will be poured out and help us grow day by day. Many of you are able to give a testimony about how you have grown in your faith when you made this principle a part of your life and at times we have tried to find creative ways to make this a principle for Faith Church to help us grow.
Our desire to connect with Sierra Leone began with a tithe we committed from our roof project a few years ago. If we were going to spend $250,000 on a new roof and AC system then we decided to take $25,000 (1/10) and give it to missions. That $25,000 is being sent to Sierra Leone to now help build a parsonage and support the work in PaLoko to establish a school. Tithing is not just a system for giving, it is a system for growing and it works for us individually and as a church.
The last two things I want to lift up from this passage that are important to our growth is meeting together for worship and having the right attitude. The picture we get in Acts 2 is of people who were committed to worship. They praised God together, prayed together, read God’s word together, fellowshipped together – they worshipped together and regular worship is important to our growth. Being around other people of faith inspires us, motivates us, challenges us, encourages us, teaches us and moves us forward. Regular corporate worship needs to be something we dedicate and commit ourselves to.
I can’t help but think that there are followers of Jesus who are in prison today for their faith and they would give anything to be able to worship with others. There are people living in fear of being known as followers of Jesus who would love to gather publically with others in worship and today there will be people across the world who will walk through difficult and dangerous conditions for miles because they understand how important it is to worship with other believers. Can their witness inspire us to commit to this time of being together? We can’t give up meeting together if we want to grow in our faith. We can’t take the summer off if we want to grow in our faith day by day. We need this time together.
And the last thing that helped these believer’s grow was their inner attitude – maybe my favorite line of all is where it says they had glad and sincere hearts. These were joyous people. They loved God and they loved others and that love was not just seen in their actions but it could be seen in their eyes and hearts and attitudes. Have you ever met a Christian who always seemed to be miserable and could never find anything positive to say about anything? I know you probably have and most of the time we don’t want to be around people like that, but we all want to be around someone who is sincere and glad. We all want to be around people filled with life and joy and enthusiasm and so we need to reflect on what is in our hearts and what we are sharing with and showing to others. Our faith reflected in our attitude is perhaps the single greatest reason why a church grows. People want to be part of a joyful, faithful group of people.
Now this doesn’t mean we won’t have our days of frustration, negativity and darkness – they come, but if we are meeting together than God’s plan is that the light and joy of others will cast that darkness away and lift us up. I have to say that my experience here at Faith Church is that there are a lot of people with glad and sincere and generous and joyful hearts and it is one of the reasons God is adding to our number. As a friend of mine said about Faith Church – you all like each other and it shows. I agree and I hope that we can continue extend that sense of joy and hospitality to everyone who enters into our midst.
Growing in our faith and becoming the church God wants us to be doesn’t happen instantly or without some effort, it is a day by day journey. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit did come upon the people in a mighty way and increase the size of the church dramatically, but after that moment, growth in people and growth in the church took place day by day – and it still does. Day by day we grow into the likeness of Jesus as we commit ourselves to God.
A day by day guide to growing in faith this week!
1. Monday: Devoted to the Apostles’ Teaching.
Take 15 minutes each day this week to read through the book of Philippians. Each day find one principle you can apply to your life or one thought to guide your day.
2. Tuesday: Breaking of Bread
Eat breakfast, lunch or dinner together as a family or with a group of friends. Decide on a day of the week to set aside for family dinner (or a day each month for friends). Begin each meal with a prayer of thanksgiving.
3. Wednesday: Prayer
Set aside 15 minutes in the morning and evening to pray. Pray for the graduating class of Bellefonte High School and their families. Give thanks for those who teach, lead and mentor children and youth in our church and community. Prayer is just our simple heart-felt words to God.
4. Thursday: Service
Decide today how you (and your family) can serve in the church and community this weekend and/or this summer. Contact Cassie Marsh-Caldwell to discuss opportunities for service in the church.
5. Friday: Tithing
Figure out your weekly income and commit to giving 10% to God through Faith Church this week as a first step toward a lifestyle of giving. This does not have to be an ongoing commitment, but make this first step and prove God trust-worthy this week!
6. Saturday: Worship
Commit to being in worship tomorrow at Faith Church or somewhere else if you are out of town.
7. Sunday: Attitude
Check your attitude on the way to worship. Is your heart glad and sincere? Are you excited about meeting God in worship? Are you ready to share your joy and smile with others?