May 27, 2013 was a special day in my life. It was my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. My wife Kathryn and I wanted to do something special, so we flew to Boston. We spent that evening at Fenway Park. It is one of the most loved stadiums in America and is a piece of American history. It opened in 1912, the same day the Titanic sank. Out of respect for the dead, the open day celebration was canceled. It is an amazing story and, I looked forward to visiting it. I had watched games from Fenway for years. I wasn’t disappointed. It met all my expectations. From our right field seats, we witnessed the Indians, now Guardians, win, 12-3! I couldn’t have asked for more. That leads us to an interesting question.
What does God expect? The answer to that question comes from our scripture lesson for today, Acts 2:42-47. They are the closing words of the second chapter of Acts. It is important to note, it is the same chapter that records the events of Pentecost. You remember the story. The Holy Spirit arrived, and lives were transformed. In the verse prior to our reading, we are told thousands of individuals were saved on that day. Our reading tells us about the activities and priorities of those new converts. Verse 42 spells it out clearly:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer
That verse is important because it answers our question, what does God expect? God expects us to do three things. First, God expects us to be devoted to the Bible. In other words, we are to be a learning church. How much time do you spend studying the Bible lately? Second, God expects us to be devoted to the fellowship. In other words, we are to be a generous church. How devoted are you to your church? How generous are you with your church? Third, God expects us to be devoted to worship. When you partake of the body and the blood of Christ and pray, you are worshipping. How much time do you spend worshipping God? It is those three things I want to explore in this blog. May we never disappoint God.
First, God expects us to be a learning church. Verse forty-two says, “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings.” Remember, these words were written about the early church. The apostles were still with them. In time, the apostles would spread throughout that area of the world and spread the Good News about Jesus Christ. In more time, according to tradition, eleven of the twelve would be martyred for the faith. Those times had not yet come. The apostles were still with them. Just think about it for a moment. The apostles were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry. They reported about they had experienced. The early church didn’t just listen to their words. The early church was devoted to their words because they had so much to offer. Time changed things. We are not living in the days of the early church. We are the contemporary church. We can no longer hang on every word of the apostles because they are dead. The best we can do is study their written words. In other words, the best we can do is study the Bible. How much serious Bible study have you done lately? How devoted are you to the scriptures? God expects us to be devoted to understanding the Bible.
In the eighth chapter of Acts is the story of Philip and the Ethiopian. Do you remember the story? The apostle is on his way to Gaza. It is on that road that he encounters an important Ethiopian authority. He was returning home after worshipping in Jerusalem. His life is complex. He is professionally successful, but his personal life is limited. When Philip meets him, the Ethiopian is reading from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. He does not understand what he is reading. He is not the first one who didn’t understand what he is reading in the Bible. He was not the last one. Can you relate to the Ethiopian? Have you ever had a hard time understanding the Bible? There is nothing casual about reading the Bible. If you want to understand the Bible, then you must be devoted to the Bible. How devoted are you to the scriptures? God expects us to be devoted to the Bible. At church, you can get help understanding those sacred words. How are you doing in that area of your spiritual development? Is God disappointed in your efforts? God expects us to study the Bible.
Second, God expects us to be a generous church. Verse forty-two says, “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings and to fellowship.” Don’t just jump over that word, fellowship. It means more than a potluck dinner or a friendly greeting. It is much deeper. It means they were willing to sacrifice for one another. If you don’t believe me, then look at look at verses forty-four and forty-five. They say, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” There is no way to read that line and not talk about money. How much money do you give to the church, so the church can respond to human need? Do you give sacrificially? Do you give out of your surplus? How devoted are you to the fellowship?
As I write this piece, I am retired after forty years in the ministry. On my last day at my church, I reviewed the things that brought me the most satisfaction. One of the points I covered was financial. When I went to my church in 1994, the annual budget was $154,000. When I left, the church’s budget was $496,000. That fact makes two points. First, life is getting more expensive. Second, the ministry grew along the way. However, one thing remained the same. Every year, people complained the budget was impossible to meet. That simply was not true. I learned long ago churches do not have a spending problem. Churches have a giving problem. The Biblical standard for giving is the tithe, 10%. According to the people at Vanco, only 5% of American church goers’ tithe. That means 95% of American church goers are living below the Biblical standard, disappointing God. It is my experience, many church goers spend more money on lunch after worship, than they gave to the church during worship. How devoted are you to the church? How generous are you? How are you doing in that area of your spiritual development? Is God disappointed in your efforts? God expects us to be devoted to the fellowship.
Third, God expects us to be a worshipping church. Verse forty-two says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The phrase the breaking of bread means communion. Jesus broke the bread at the upper room to represent his body. If you combine communion and prayer, then you create worship. How important is worship to you? The faith was never meant to be lived out in isolation. Sadly, the numbers do not lie. According to the Pew Research Group, 70% of Americans claim they are Christian. However, only 47% of American Christians belong to a church. Only 22% of American Christians attend worship each week. You can eliminate everything except worship in the life of the church and still be a church. If you eliminate worship, then you stop being a church. You can eliminate the United Methodist Men, the United Methodist Women and the Methodist Youth Fellowship and still be a church. You can dissolve the East Ohio Annual Conference and the Mahoning Valley District and still be a church. You can eliminate Sunday school and all the committees and still be a church. We could sell the building and still be a church. We could cancel all the concerts and picnics and still be the church. However, the one thing you can not eliminate and be a church is worship. How much time do you spend worshipping? How devoted are you to worship? How are you doing in that area of your spiritual development? Is God disappointed in your efforts? God expects us to be devoted to worship.
Have you ever taken a whale watching tour? On our trip to Boston, Kathryn and I traveled to Gloucester for such a tour. They guaranteed a whale sighting, but I wasn’t convinced. I am a product of this area, so I’m a little cynical. I expected to bob off the Massachusetts coast and see nothing. I figured the guaranteed part was a picture of whale at the end of the trip. That is why I was shocked when I saw a whale. I was overwhelmed. In all, we saw four different whales. One was so close you could study her details. The naturalist called her Pinball because she had a perfectly round circle on her tail. I was overwhelmed by Pinball’s size. We watched Pinball swim under the surface. We watched Pinball shoot water through her spout. We watched Pinball stick that massive tail up out of the water. The whole experience with Pinball made me feel better. I felt better about our world’s ecology. After all, we hear so much about pollution. We must be doing something right! Just think of all the fish that must be in the sea to sustain one whale. How many whales are in the world? The whole experience made he think about God. How could you look at such a superb creature and not believe in God? We were out on the ocean for four hours watching whales. The truth is I didn’t want it to end. Listen to what I am about to say. They whole experience was more than I ever expected. How many times have you said that in your life? Most of the time we are disappointed. Wouldn’t it be great to be more than God ever expected?