Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on January 1, 2017
To begin this morning, open your Bibles to Acts 2:41-47. If I am not mistaken, every year since I began preaching here at Cornerstone Church, I have chosen to spend the Sunday after Christmas encouraging the congregation to embrace spiritual New Year’s Resolutions. Today I will be doing the same.
This morning I will be focusing on three resolutions that I want us as a Church to commit ourselves to. And by us, I mean all of us; from the youngest to the oldest, men and women, new believers and mature believers. My desire is that 2017 would be a year of significant spiritual growth for all of us, and that we would be accountability partners in this pursuit, reminding each other, encouraging each other, and perhaps even rebuking each other over the next 365 days.
The three resolutions that I want us to commit to are what I believe to be the core three, the fundamental basics of a Christian walk, and a healthy Church. Could we add to this list? Sure, but today I do not want to muddy the waters, I want to keep it simple. These three resolutions are as follows 1) Read the Entire Bible, 2) Pray without ceasing, and 3) Devotion to the Fellowship.
The place that we can see these three core spiritual principals together is Acts 2:41-47. Acts 2 is a window into the Church right after the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Perhaps you could argue that this was the moment in time where the Church was the most pure.
Resolution #1: Read the Entire Bible
Our first resolution is to read the entire Bible in 2017. To begin let us recognize that the reason that this is a resolution is because few Christians are actually doing it. Here are some numbers to support this. Lifeway Research found that almost 20% of Church goers rarely or never read the Bible on their own. 22 percent of Church goers read it once a month. 14 percent say they read it once a week. And only a meager 19% of Church goers read the Bible every day. Those numbers don’t necessarily reflect Cornerstone, but there is no doubt that we have some in each category.
What would be interesting to know is how many of us, who claim to be Christians, have read the Bible from beginning to end. Half of us? A quarter of us? A couple of us? I won’t do it, but I am tempted to ask those who have read the Bible in its entirety to raise their hands so we can understand how pervasive our apathy is.
The Bible contains about 800,000 words. The average person reads about 200 words per minute. That means it would take 4000 minutes to read the Bible, which is a little less than 67 hours. In 2017, God willing, He will grant us 8760 hours of life. 67 hours of 8760 hours is 0.7 percent. To give some perspective, on average, and American will watch 5 hours of TV a day, which is 1825 hours in a year, which equates to a little over 20% of the year.
So the issue is not lack of time, it is lack of will. If you don’t read the Bible from beginning to end in 2017, it is because you don’t want to, that other things are more important to you such as TV, Facebook, video games, magazines, hobbies, etc.
In light of this reality that many of you may lack the will to read the Bible, I am going to try to change your will this morning by giving you reasons why you should read God’s Word in its entirety.
The first one is the simplest, we should read the Bible because God tells us to. Let’s listen to some text:
It is undisputed that there is no other book that has every existed like the Bible. The Worlds Book of Guinness Records estimates that over 5 billion copies of the Bible have been printed. Yet it is banned in a number of countries and thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people have been murdered for having one in their possession. Why is it the most popular book in all of human history and the most dangerous book in all of history?
Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Bible is not like any other book that has or will be created. It is a book that contains within its pages life.
It was by God's Words that he made the heavens and the earth. It it by God's Word that all things hold together. It is by God's Word that we are saved. It is by God's Word that we have knowledge. It is by God's Word that we have hope. It is by God's Word that we have strength. It is by God's Word that we know Him. John Frame in his systematic theology states, “When we read the Word, we encounter Him; when we encounter him, we hear his Word.”
This is why we see the Word of God as an object of worship in some sections of the Bible. Psalm 56:10-11, “In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, 11in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? ” Psalm 119:162, “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.” Then there was Peter in John 6:68, when asked by Jesus if the disciples were gong to abandon him. What Peter says hits the nail on the head. “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Why was Peter united with Christ for all eternity, his miracles? His charisma? His wealth? NO! It was His Words! The living Word of God had cut Peter wide open and revealed to him the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the Word that had become flesh and was dwelling amongst them. Peter couldn't get enough of the Words of God. They were like honey on his lips. Psalm 119:103, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
Many of you know I enjoy reading and listening to a Pastor named John Piper. He recently wrote a book, that I have only read portions of so far. The book is named “Peculiar Glory.” In it he compares the Bible to a window and this is what he says, “I have stood in front of this window all these years, not to protect it from being broken, or because the owner of the chalet told me to, but because of the glory of the Alps on the other side. I am a captive of the glory of God revealed in Scripture.”
This is my prayer for all of you. That ever day you walk to the window of God's Word and you stand in awe of who He is. That you marvel at his unapproachable light. That you are captivated by His glory. And this should be your prayer each time you pick up the living word of God, “Show me your glory. Open my eyes that I may see the wonders of your majesty.”
In the bulletins you will find a Bible reading plan. It is my hope that all of us, together will commit ourselves to walking through the Bible hand in hand this year. Encouraging each other. Talking about what we are reading. Standing together at the window of God's Word marveling at His Glory.
Resolution #2: Pray Without Ceasing
The second resolution that I encourage you to pursue this year is to pray without ceasing. In Acts 2 the early Church was devoted to prayer. Does that describe your prayer life...devoted. I confess, it does not define mine, and I am a lesser man for it. This is an area in my life that needs much attention.
The idea of praying without ceasing comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17. The Apostle Paul encourages the Church in Thessalonica to, “Rejoice always,17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” So once again, we see a powerful reason to resolve this year to be a people of prayer...it is the will of God for you.
As we think about those who have gone before us, we see the constant of prayer. David is Psalm 5:3 says, “O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.” And then in Psalm 4:8 we are given a glimpse of David's prayer before he goes to bed, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”
Then there is Daniel. During the reign of King Darius in Babylon, prayer was forbidden. Daniel 6:10 tells us, “When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.”
Then there was the Apostle Paul himself, who encouraged the Thessalonian Church to pray without ceasing. Right out of the gates he was found to be a man of prayer. In Acts 9:11 right after Paul's conversion these were the words of the Lord to Ananias , “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying.” Paul was a man from the beginning who practiced what he preached. He not only encouraged ceaseless prayer but implemented it. Romans 1:9 says, “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10always in my prayers.”
Then of course there is Jesus himself. A perfect picture of a prayer life. Jesus would rise early and stay up late, just to pray. He would pray for children. Pray before eating. Pray for his disciples. And of course pray before his greatest trial, the cross. And it is in the midst of this prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night of his arrest, that we find a useful admonishment regarding prayer. In Matthew 26:40 it says, “And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?41Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
There is perhaps not a better description of many of us today...asleep. And we wonder why we fall prey to Satan's attacks: anxiety, greed, jealousy, anger, division. The puritan Matthew Henry was a devout man of prayer and he said this about prayer, “I love prayer. It is that which buckles on all the Christian's Armour.” So this year, let us wake up, and buckle up, and resolved to be a people of prayer, a perople who pray without ceasing.
Resolution #3: Devotion to Fellowship
The third resolution that I hope all of you will embrace is to devote yourself to the fellowship of believers. What does this look like? In Acts 2 it appears that it was every day. Oh how far many of us have fallen. Some of you may go one month without stepping in these doors. Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
There is a lie in this post-modern millennial culture that many of you have embraced, and it is the idea that you can be a Christian without going to Church. Satan has whispered in your ear and you have bitten into the apple of staying home on Sundays and it has separated you from God and making a ship wreck of your faith, and most likely your families faith.
Don't misunderstand me, I fully embrace that to be a Christian, the only hoop you have to jump through (which is about the size of an eye of the needle) is believing in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. However, if you have truly repented and placed your faith in Jesus, one of the fruits of salvation is union with, not only Christ, but the body of Christ. As I say frequently, when you were adopted by the blood of Jesus you were adopted into a family. Unfortunately, a number of you live like you are runaways, only returning to Church when you are in a jam.
So why should we commit ourselves to fellowship together, at least on Sundays, if not more? To begin. Because God tells us to. To be a Christian means to submit to God's will. Once again, God's will is to be in community. If you do not devote yourself to this community, then you are acting like Satan, not like a saint. To follow Christ means to obey Christ. However, there is more.
The reason we must devote ourselves to each other is because you need us, and we need you. You can see this in the verse I read earlier, Hebrews 10:24, “ And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” I need you to stir me up, and you need me to stir you up. In fact, this is what I am doing right now, stirring. But it is not just me, it is Sunday School, it is prayer time, it is worship, it is conversations before and after Church. Every second that you are with your brother and sisters, it is an opportunity for grace to flow. And notice that this stirring is not just for the sake of stirring, but so that we can love and do good works.
There is a Christian cliché that says that the Church is a hospital for broken sinners, and yes, in a sense that it true, but it falls terribly short. The Church is an unstoppable force, a collection of soldiers, building and equipping ourselves to push back the darkness in this world. The Church, the assembly of believers, is the greatest power on this planet, and we are called by the God on the Universe to expand his Kingdom for His Glory. This should be the battle cry of 2017. And it begins here. Right here, and right now. Are you in, or are you out?
So what happens if we at Cornerstone commit ourselves to read the entire Bible, pray without ceasing, and devote ourselves to the fellowship? If we look back to our original text we see words like “awe”, “wonder”, “glad”, “favor”, and the “Lord [adding] to their number day by day those who were being saved.”