Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Ever been in a competitive race? As some of you know, NorthHaven’s running compass group likes to tackle the occasional 5K or 10K race. There is something special about those mornings. Usually it is cool and everyone is in good cheer. When arriving some are yawning with their morning coffee not quite kicking in yet. Others are raring to go, immediately trying to discover the starting line and jockey for position before the start gun fires.
One of my favorite moments is scoping out the contestants before the race. Some are wearing the latest gear, while others appear as though this might be their first time to lace up a pair of running shoes. Regardless of appearance though, everyone is eager and excited. Once the starting gun sounds, massive chaos ensues. Some racers rush out to a quick start, while others prefer a more leisurely pace.
It’s about at the 1/2K marker you begin to realize the enjoyment of the moment. For me, it not about who I beat or what place I finish. I run fast and I try hard, but the real enjoyment of race day is realizing you’re part of something bigger than yourself. Each individual has trained. Each individual has sacrificed and worked hard. Each individual has brought their best to this day. For some reason though, individuality seems to fade on the course. Individuality begins to blend into the ethos of the run.
Runners find themselves talking to other runners. Passing an elderly man, you cheer him on in your mind. He does the same when he passes me at the end. Seeing children run through the streets reminds you of the joys of youth. Noticing someone trying to catch their breath to take another stride motivates you to offer some encouragement. Race day has always been a moment when I conclude it truly is the race and the people running alongside me that make the day so enjoyable.
First Century Church
As the first century church began to grow, we discover a people racing forward evolving into a thriving community with a deep rooted mission in their hearts. They are encouraging each other. They are meeting each other’s needs. They are loving each other the way Jesus taught them to love, that agape kind of love with no restriction, no boundaries. They are even finding new participants for the race.
In the book of Acts, Luke’s continuation of his Gospel story, we begin to catch a glimpse of Jesus’ disciples in the aftermath of his ascension. Methodist scholar William Willimon reminds us that we are seeing these disciples as the “embodiment of the Pentecost enthusiasm” (Willimon, 39). Back in Acts 2, we experienced a fresh movement of the Holy Spirit with Peter preaching that incredible sermon, disciples speaking in unknown languages, and others professing Jesus as God’s Messiah. Indeed, it was an incredible day with reverberations continuing to build.
Four Foundations of the Early Church (Acts 2:42)
At the conclusion of chapter 2, we are introduced to the four “embodiments of the Gospel” (Willimon, 40). The first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” These four embodiments were embedded into the heart of the community, establishing a missional component to their faith.
In other words, it was not enough to be recipients of God’s grace, mercy, and love. The people experiencing the reverberations of Pentecost wanted to share those experiences with others. They wanted others to join them in discovering the mysteries of God, the benefits of living in community, and the attributes of living missionally.
This brings us to Acts 2:43-47...
The Missional Community (Acts 2:43-47)
An “awe inspiring” faith. Taking a deeper look into the first Christian community, we first discover an “awe inspiring” faith. Ben Witherington III suggests the reason for this “awe” towards the first century Christians was the “zeal they possessed for their faith” (Witherington, 161). They were not “lukewarm” as the church of Laodicea would become (Revelation 3:14-15). They were burning white hot from the Pentecostal tide.
Living missionally begins with living an “awe inspiring” faith. The Greek word for “awe” is “phobos,” which literally means “to be put to flight.” Living an “awe inspiring” faith does not mean you need to be super-spiritual. Living an “awe inspiring” faith does not mean you have to be a great biblical scholar. Living an “awe inspiring” faith does mean your experiences with God inspire you to take flight...to move forward...to do something other than remain stationary.
Much of the church’s problems today, in my opinion, is a stubbornness to stay stationary in theology and the practice of faith. In many cases, the churches of our time are more like the church at Laodicea in Revelation, lukewarm, rather than the church riding the waves of Pentecost.
At NorthHaven, we do everything in our power to live an “awe inspiring” faith. Now, please do not misunderstand me. This is not a “display window” kind of faith to demonstrate our piety, but a faith that inspires us internally to live out the love of Jesus to the world before us. NorthHaven refuses to stay put, stay stagnant, or stay struck. We are constantly looking for new opportunities, new partnerships, and new doors that God opens for us.
Together, we move forward.
Together forward. The second attribute played out in the life of the first century Christians is their fellowship. They were committed to Christ and to each other. We are told they “were together and had all things in common.” The Greek word for “together” is epi which literally renders “connection.” The first century church was not only enjoying new friendships, but they were “connected” through their faith and mission in Jesus Christ.
Having “all things in common” stems from the notion of fellowship or koinos. Koinos is the Greek idea of having something in common that joins people together. In this instance, the koinos of the first Christians was their faith, but it was also the living out of that faith among their community. Together, they moved forward actually living out the Gospel.
At NorthHaven, you will discover a community built upon the idea of freedom: Bible Freedom, Soul Freedom, Church Freedom, and Religious Freedom. You will discover our willingness to engage and include anyone seeking community. And today, you will discover a group of dedicated believers attempting to live out the Gospel in an intentional and missional way. At NorthHaven, we love Jesus and we love people.
Therefore, together, we cast our gaze both inwardly and outwardly seeking to meet the needs of the those we see.
Your need, my need. Another characteristic of the first century church was their willingness to sell their possessions and provide for others. This is a deep contrast to the rich young ruler, but complementary to the life-altering decision of Zaccheus, the tax collector. Zaccheus, you will remember, sold his possessions to give the money to the poor and refunded people more than four times what he had cheated them. As Luke points out, the first century Christians followed suit, living a missional philosophy declaring your need is my need.
At NorthHaven, we recognize a world in need. We often tease with the quip, we have not met a mission opportunity we have not liked. From our global ventures to our local projects, NorthHaven is seeking to make a real difference in this world through loving people and meeting their needs; physical, physiological, and spiritual.
Through helping families with food and offering protection against diseases, we are committed to healing the body. Through our CareNetwork, we are attempting to help individuals overcome trauma from childhood sexual abuse. Through supporting missionaries and church starts, we are helping expand the kingdom of God. Of course, there are many other projects and partnerships we are involved in at NorthHaven, but one thing remains consistent, we are committed to the missional lifestyle.
For us, here at NorthHaven, missions is not just about the church. Being missional is about being the presence of Christ wherever we dwell, wherever we work, wherever we travel. Being missional is a lifestyle, depicting the life and ministry of Christ. More simply, it means embracing others with the love of Jesus as they have need.
Their needs are our needs.
Generosity attracts generosity. Finally, what is our reward? Why do we spend 15% of our budgeted receipts on missions? Yes it is simply the right thing to do, but we also understand that generosity attracts generosity. As we clearly witness in Acts, God continued to add to the numbers of the church.
People were being saved, but why? Absolutely, it was the message of Jesus, but it was also the experience of encountering Jesus-kind of people. People were being introduced to Christ through the fellowship and generosity of others. Thus when someone feels as though they matter to someone else, they want to be a part of that endeavor to spread the love.
Similar to how Jesus demonstrated generosity towards others in feeding thousands of people, we too are called to portray generosity towards others. Every chance I get, I tell people about what NorthHaven is doing to impact the world with the love of Christ.
I’m so proud of this church for how you rise up when one of our own is down. I am so proud of how this church steps up when others have need. I am so proud of this church, because we take the missional lifestyle extremely seriously. I am so proud of this church, because we actually believe the words of our Lord, “Love God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and love others as you would love yourself.”
Back to race day for a moment. After crossing the finish line, I grabbed some water and started to watch the rest of the racers make their way down the stretch to the finish line.
I was amazed at what I saw. With each passing runner, the crowd cheered with enthusiasm. They laughed. They cried. They recognized the feat of finishing the race.
Some runners sprinted to the finish line, while others completed their journeys by walking the remaining distance.
Some runners flew across the finish line alone, while others crossed laughing with a group.
Some runners finished with still some left in the tank, while others were completely spent.
Some runners were young and some were old.
Some were male and some were female.
Some had a smile on their face and others wore that, “I will never do this again” look.
Every one of them though, no matter who they were and how fast they ran, got encouragement and applause from the crowd.
Standing there watching all of this unfold, my mind began to wonder...
I wonder if this is what Jesus was thinking about when he established his church? Think about it....
Look, there in the distance comes some others crossing the finish line.
There is the hungry boy who was fed because NorthHaven helped in providing food in his backpack.
There is the young family who got to stay in their house because NorthHaven paid their rent.
There is the Native American girl who learned about the love of Jesus because NorthHaven provided food to her local church.
There is the family who received a home which NorthHaven helped construct along with Habitat with Humanity.
There is the young boy now grown up who learned about the love of Jesus from an adult who cared enough to teach his Sunday School class.
There is the child with autism who learned the love of community in our Day School program.
There is the elderly Kenyan man who we gave a mosquito net to his mother years ago.
There is the Hispanic woman whose house we helped repair when NorthHaven sent a team to work alongside other Baptists in the Rio Gand Valley.
There is the young man from the Gulf Coast NorthHaven helped when a team went to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina.
There is the elderly lady who received a prayer shawl knitted by our NorthHaven ladies.
There is the Ghanaian family who were all baptized by Rev. Timothy Wilson, a pastor we support in the Northern Volta Region of Ghana.
They are all crossing the finish line because NorthHaven dared to be a missional congregation. They are all finishing the race because you chose to make a difference.
Through your generosity of resources, time, and effort, people from Norman to Africa are experiencing the Gospel and love of Jesus.
Because we are free...because we are inclusive...because we freely invite you to be a part of a church who still believes in the “embodiment of Pentecost.” We still believe the Holy Spirit moves. We still believe the love of Jesus can change the world. We still believe Jesus’ church has the responsibility to cheer all the runners on who are running the race.
Come join us, as we make a real difference to those we encounter.