This is a message I gave at Cross Central Church on Sunday, September 15, 2013. www.crosscentral.org
How many of you were awkward during Junior High? How many of you feel awkward when you first set foot into a new church? We feel awkward because we don’t know if we’ll fit in. We don’t know if we’ll belong. We are hard-wired to want a community to belong to, but it is difficult to know if we’ll truly be accepted. So many people struggle in loneliness, even when they are part of a community. Do you know the feeling? But I’m sorry to say that it gets worse.
When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, the city of Pompeii was buried in an instant. Because we’d never seen it, many people believed it was a mythical city until it was discovered in 1599 and more fully in 1748. If you’ve ever had the chance to tour places like Israel, Greece, Turkey, etc. you’ll find city after city that lies in ruins, uninhabited for thousands of years. There are no doubt thousands more towns and cities of antiquity that we will never discover. And that’s the problem with communities.
No continent, no period of history and no people group have existed without communities dying. Look today at cities like Detroit. If something doesn’t change soon, it too will be a city of ruin for future generations to uncover.
Communities will always die. Unless they are birthed of another sort.
1When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
1. Our Community is Birthed Supernaturally
This was the birth of our community, the church. On this day Jesus sent to the church the promised Holy Spirit and a community was born that has yet to die. It is the only community planet earth will ever see that will never die. It is the one every one of us here who follow Jesus is a part of.
On this day the church went from 120 people to over 3,000. It was infused with supernatural power. Every other community we may belong to is natural. It can be born, raised, age and die. Ours, though, is distinctly supernatural. If we remove from our midst the supernatural aspect of our community, we too will die. Every church that has neglected to cultivate and nurture that supernatural spirit has, in fact, died.
Many people are wary today of the word supernatural in the context of church, but we cannot be a Christian community unless we think of ourselves as supernatural. Without the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through our lives, what we have will certainly die.
When you accepted Jesus into your life, you instantly became a supernatural being. You accepted the eternal, supernatural, indwelling life of God. If you are a Christian, to deny God’s supernatural involvement in your life is to deny yourself.
As a community, we must accept our supernatural nature. In addition, we must realize that the power of the Holy Spirit is not only birthed in our community, but cultivated.
How do we cultivate the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit?
2. Our Supernatural Community is Cultivated Prayerfully
A supernatural encounter in Acts 3 led to a man being healed and another 2,000 people choosing to follow Jesus. This irked the religious rulers. After they had them arrested, these religious rulers threatened Peter and John not to speak or teach about Jesus anymore.
When they were released by the religious rulers, they returned to where the church was meeting and they prayed this prayer in Acts 4:29-31.
29Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
31And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
They prayed for God to intervene on their behalf supernaturally. No one can heal. For that matter, no one really has boldness in the face of certain death of their own accord. The apostles were all very aware of this since they had already deserted Jesus when pressure came; every single one of them.
They all knew that without God’s supernatural power and presence, they could not be bold as He had asked them to be. You see, our community is supernatural so that we can be bold. Many of you have been burned by people who want to wave their theology of supernatural living simply for the sake of being supernatural.
No, Jesus warns us in Luke 10:20 that our joy in our supernatural existence cannot be from the fact that we can heal or cast demons out of people, but that our names our written in the Lamb’s book of life. Our joy shouldn’t be in what we can do supernaturally, but who we are supernaturally. The Lord wants to use His supernatural power and presence to embolden us.
We cultivate that through prayer. I like to tell people that the prayer that God answers is the one we actually pray. If we don’t pray, God can’t answer our prayers. He may still do stuff, but He won’t be doing it in partnership with us. And that’s one of the great mysteries of our nature: God created us and we rebelled, so He gave His life for us to redeem us to God so that we could partner with Him forever. He didn’t just save us from Hell, but to heaven: eternity. Each of the promises to the overcomers of the seven churches of Revelation speak to our eternal partnership with God that He has designed us for.
That partnership begins in prayer. And God set us up. He set us up to fail alone. In Acts, there is very little prayer that isn’t corporate. If you are struggling to have a personal prayer life, it is because you don’t engage in corporate prayer with others. It is very difficult to have a thriving prayer life unless you are engaged in a corporate prayer life. That takes our community. And our community won’t pray to someone we have a hard time believing doesn’t exist because we can’t fathom the supernatural nature of God.
God means for us to partake in prayer corporately in the same way we grow together when we share meals corporately. But the reason we pray together goes back to this idea of living supernaturally. It makes us bold.
God will not answer the prayers we don’t pray. When we pray, though, He can answer. And when He does, it gives us such confidence and boldness to trust in Him. It gives us confidence in our supernatural God. And that’s why we need boldness, because if our community ceases being supernatural, it dies with us. But if it continues growing in the power of the Holy Spirit, it not only grows within, but it grows out.
3. Our Prayerfully Supernatural Community is Grown Exponentially
1Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.3Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
5And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.
7Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
By Acts 6 things are completely out of control. The church is no longer in addition mode, but it has turned the corner into multiplication mode. Why? Because the believers who were birthed supernaturally and cultivated in a deeply prayerful and loving community couldn’t contain themselves. They were telling everyone. And everyone wanted to know what had changed them.
The apostles realized they were in over their heads. So what did they do? They did what all good executive level type leaders do, they gave more of their time to strategic planning. Nope, they devoted themselves ENTIRELY to prayer and the Word of God. That in and of itself was supernatural. Think about all the opportunities they had to say no to. That never happens unless people know there is something greater than themselves making this thing run.
They appointed Godly men full of the Holy Spirit (there it is again) to wait tables. Incidentally, we don’t have a record of these men waiting tables. We only know about them telling others about Jesus. They couldn’t contain it.
The good news was bursting out of everyone in this community. And Luke tells us something very special here. The church went from just multiplying–to multiplying greatly.
When we enter into this supernatural community and we choose to cultivate it prayerfully, we’ll grow exponentially. The difficulties of belonging will fade away when you become part of this eternal community. Look to your right and to your left. What you see here is something that is going to last forever, if we choose to let it.