Acts 2:42-47

42And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  44And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

  • Introduction
    • As a UMC, our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
      • The same mission that Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew 28 (Great Commission).
      • A mission that has been passed down from generation to generation, and is always one generation away from being lost.
    • Our call as a church is to reach others with the good news of Jesus Christ.
      • Not different from our mission.
      • Mission – horizon towards which we constantly move
      • Call – the landscape along the way
    • Five Practices
      • Things that we can do to help us become vibrant, thriving disciples of Jesus Christ, and in turn, be a vibrant, thriving congregation that reaches others with the good news and helps them become disciples of Jesus
      • Last week – Radical Hospitality
        • Radical Hospitality is more than a smile and a handshake.
        • Radical Hospitality begins in our personal lives by saying “Yes!” to God’s invitation on a daily basis.  This involves opening ourselves up to God, even when it is uncomfortable and awkward.
        • Radical Hospitality extends beyond ourselves and to the local congregation.
        • As a congregation, we have to remember:
          • First, at some point in our lives, we were invited and welcomed to the faith.
          • Second, when we invite people to our church, we are inviting them to the kingdom of God.
          • These two things should always be at the front of our minds as we try to provide a welcoming, loving environment where others may come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
      • This week – Intentional Faith Development
  • What is Intentional Faith Development?
    • Importance of the Adjectives
      • With all of the Five Practices, where are important adjectives that help take the particular practice to the next level.
      • With Radical Hospitality, obviously, the adjective is radical.
        • There is a difference between hospitality and radical hospitality.
        • Hospitality is merely being polite, but radical hospitality means that we are going out of our way to invite and welcome others to the kingdom of God.
      • Faith development is a critical part of any person’s spiritual life; however, to add the adjective “intentional” brings in a whole new meaning.
        • “Faith development” means:
          • Someday I’ll get around to reading my Bible on a daily basis.
          • Eventually I’ll read through all of it.
          • I’m going to start praying every morning… next week.
          • Someday, eventually, next week…
          • There is a lack of commitment to “faith development.”
          • Intentional faith development implies that there is some thought, some planning, some purpose in one’s approach to faith development.
          • Intentional faith development ratchets up the commitment level and the consistency with which we approach developing our faith.
    • Methodism’s History of Intentional Faith Development
      • Back in the 1700’s John Wesley and George Whitefield were two prominent preachers that led a revival in England.
        • Who are they?
          • Many know about Wesley, not as many know about Whitefield.
          • Whitefield was a well-known preacher and a contemporary of John Wesley.
          • It was Whitefield that encouraged Wesley to preach in the fields, which was a major part of the revival that was going on at the time.
          • Theologically, they were very different on the matter of free will and divine election.
            • Whitefield was a Calvinist who believed in election, that God chooses those who will be saved.
            • Wesley was an Arminian, who believed in free will and that all can be saved.
            • While their theological views on this matter differed, they always respected one another, knowing that the other’s heart was in the right place, even though they may not have agreed theologically.
            • More significant difference
              • Whitefield was a fiery preacher, and by some accounts, a better preacher than Wesley; however Wesley was an organizer.
              • In the short term, Whitefield may have brought more people to the front for an altar call, but in the long term, it was Wesley who raised disciples of Jesus Christ.
              • How did he do this?  Intentional Faith Development
            • Class Meetings
              • Wesley organized new converts into what he called “class meetings.”
              • Class meetings were basically a group of 10-12 people who met together weekly for personal supervision of their spiritual growth.
              • There would be a leader in the group that would guide the meeting, and the meeting would always begin with the leader discussing his/her personal spiritual life and then each person in the group would share with one another.
              • The key question that they would ask one another was, “How is it with your soul?”  Basically, what is the state of your spiritual life?
              • People were very open about their successes and their failures in their life of faith.  This was how they grew closer together as a group, and how they developed into mature disciples of Jesus Christ.
              • The class meeting was the core group of the Methodist movement in its early years.  If it weren’t for the class meeting, we would probably not be here today.  The Methodist movement would have died out, and there would be no such thing as the UMC today.
              • In fact, many churches that we know today would not be around because they all trace their roots to the early Methodists.  The fact that they are around today is a testament to the importance of being intentional about our faith development.
  • Intentional Faith Development in our personal lives
    • Characteristics of people who practice Intentional Faith Development
      • Commit to learning and overcoming obstacles
        • Do you ever try to read through the Bible, or start a daily spiritual routine, and something comes along, gets you thrown out of the pattern, and you completely fall off the wagon?
        • There are going to be obstacles when we try to attend to our spiritual lives.  Satan will always try to put roadblocks in our way because He doesn’t want us to grow spiritually.  He is a lot more comfortable if we are merely lukewarm in our spiritual lives.
        • I realize that we live in a busy society, and that often it is difficult to find the time to read the Bible, or find a quiet place to pray.  But here’s the simple truth: No one ever finds the time, they make time.
        • It’s about our priorities.  If our spiritual development truly is a priority, then we make the time.
        • At this point in our history, it is easier than ever to obtain and read or listen to Scripture.  You can get Scripture on your smartphone, or through daily email, or through an audio Bible, or you can even do it the old-fashioned way, and just pick up a book.
        • Intentional faith development requires a commitment to overcoming whatever obstacles may present themselves.
      • Avoid a detached reading of Scripture
        • It’s easy to read the words on the page and not let them sink in because many of the other books that we have don’t require much of us.  We read the story, but our lives aren’t different – that’s not the case with the Bible.
        • If we take Scripture seriously, we realize that it requires so much of us.  A detached reading is not possible once we realize the magnitude of what is going on in the Bible.
        • We have to make it personal.  We need to read Scripture, not just as a way of knowing about God, but as a way of knowing God.
        • We have to realize that God speaks to us through His living Word, and our lives have to be different.
      • Not a consumer, a cultivator
        • Here is one of the hard ones.  Do you know how many times I’ve talked to people who said that they don’t go to church because they don’t “get anything out of it”?  That’s a consumer mentality, and it should have no place among mature Christians.
        • The simple truth is that people who practice intentional faith development don’t expect to be spoon-fed the content of their spiritual lives.  They look for the opportunities for long-term growth.
        • We can see an example of this in nature.
          • If you buy a tomato plant and expect to get a tomato right away, you are going to be disappointed.  There’s no such thing as a fast-growing tomato.  You don’t plant the seed one day, and then gather the harvest the next.  It just doesn’t happen.
          • I can tell you from personal experience – if you don’t take care of that plant, it will not produce.  I’m a horrible gardener – that’s why I know it’s true.
          • While I may be a horrible gardener, I have a decent idea of how we grow spiritually, and it’s not instant.  It doesn’t come in easy to swallow form.
          • Don’t come to church expecting to “get something out of it.”  Come to church because you want to cultivate your spiritual life, and lay yourself before the Lord.
      • Teach others
        • Do you know how many clergy members it took to keep the early class meetings going?  One, and I don’t mean one per group.  I mean one. Period.
        • In the early days of the Methodist movement, John Wesley was the one clergy member.  He didn’t go to every class meeting.  Other people led the class meetings.
        • People who may or may not have been a little further along in their journey of faith.  It doesn’t take a seminary degree or ordination to ask people about the state of their spiritual life.  It takes an open heart and a willing ear.
        • Nobody has all the answers, but in the class meetings, they worked to figure them out together.
      • Always learning and growing in the faith
        • There is never a cap to our spiritual growth.
        • God is limitless, and so is our potential to draw closer to Him.
        • If you ever think that you have gone as far as you can go in your spiritual life, then that very thought should tell you that you haven’t.
        • The closer we get to God, the more we realize how far apart we really are.
      • People who practice intentional faith development do so in community.
        • Yes, there are some things that you have to do by yourself, but it is always in the context of the faith community.  Nobody does it alone.
        • We have been created to be in community, and we grow best in community.
          • In the creation story found at the beginning of Genesis, every thing is declared to be good – until God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
          • It is not good for us to be alone.  Intentional faith development has to take place in the community of faith.
  • Intentional Faith Development in our congregational life
    • Learning in community replicates the way that Jesus taught his disciples.
      • Rarely, if ever, do you see Jesus and just one disciple.
      • Jesus calls them together to be a part of a group.  A group that learns from him, and a group that is commissioned by him to reach others and make disciples.
      • When we are living and learning in community there are several advantages that we simply don’t have when we are by ourselves.
        • It breaks us out of our isolation.  We can come up with some crazy ideas about our faith when we are out there on our own.  But in community, we can look at Scripture together and learn from one another.
        • We can overcome obstacles with one another that we can’t overcome by ourselves.  Sometimes we need a hand to help us over the fence.  We need a boost – that’s what the faith community is all about, giving one another a much needed boost.
    • The early church gathered together in groups to share the faith and grow together spiritually.
      • In Acts 2 we read about the early Christians gathering together to learn from the apostles and to take part in the Lord’s Supper together.
      • They did this because this is how the first disciples learned.  They learned by fellowshipping together and talking with one another, and by seeing the example of Jesus in their midst.
      • They passed on that mode of learning to those who followed, and it has been critical for the Christian faith and the development of disciples since that time.
      • Many churches are finding that small groups are effective ways of people growing in their faith.  It’s not a new thing.  It is a tried and true method of reaching others and transforming them into disciples of Jesus Christ.
    • Importance of living in covenant with one another.
      • Membership and baptismal vows are never taken in isolation.
      • Accountability helps us grow in faith alongside one another.

Conclusion: Intentional faith development has to be just that – intentional.  We have to take responsibility for our own personal spiritual growth.  We have to realize that we will never find the time in our busy schedule, but that we have to make the time if it is going to happen.  And we must never lose sight of the fact that this has to be done in the context of the faith community.  It is not good for us to be alone.  We have a family – brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.  Alongside people committed to spiritual growth, we can’t help but be committed ourselves.  Intentional faith development is important, and it does not come naturally.

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