Pastor Craig Carter
By definition, for a comeback to occur, some adverse circumstances must be experienced. It may be an athlete that suffers a career-threatening injury, a business that faces financial ruin, or a church like ours that loses its facilities in a Cat-5 hurricane. In each instance, a setback occurs that prevents the person or organization from operating at their peak level or the ways in which they are accustomed.
In other words, they are knocked down a notch or two and may even suffer the loss of all that they had accomplished previously. And for a comeback story to be written, they have to get up off the deck and start from square one. The comeback begins by getting “back to the basics.”
Depending on the severity of an injury, an athlete may have to regain use of the affected body part, then slowly work his or her way back into their chosen sport. A business may have to declare bankruptcy, clear the books, lay off employees, and downsize in order to start up again.
We learned as a church that if we were going to operate at all post-hurricane, we were going to be a slimmed down version of our former self. We had less ministries, fewer meetings, and reduced activity in the months after the storm. We focused on the basics because we had no other choice at that time.
Fast forward three years … For our comeback to continue, we need to STAY focused on the basics because they are what will keep us on track and prevent us from being weighed down with non-essentials.
In this message I want us to look at how we can get “back to the basics” of the Christian faith. Our model is found in the comeback story of the Early Church told in Acts.
The first followers of Jesus suffered a pretty significant setback. Namely, their leader was taken from them. Jesus was arrested, crucified, and killed, leaving them feeling lost and defeated. And even though He made the greatest comeback in human history by being raised from the dead, Christ still wasn’t present with them any longer as He ascended back into heaven.
Let me add, He wasn’t physically present with them but He was spiritually present through the Holy Spirit. Those first Christians knew the key for that continuing to happen was making sure they did the things Jesus had taught them so they could stay in His presence.
Here was the approach they took, described in a summary statement of their activity that took place shortly after their comeback began on the Day of Pentecost:
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 NLT)
The first followers of Jesus staged a comeback story for the ages as they ultimately changed the world for Christ’s sake. It all started when they got back to the basics listed in verse 42.
The founder of our Methodist denomination, John Wesley, referred to these fundamental Christian practices as “the instituted means of grace.” He described them in this way: “The means of grace are outward signs, words, or actions, ordained by God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby He might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.”
In other words, these “means of grace” are the essential ingredients needed for living in Christ’s presence and experiencing all God has to offer.
Let’s look at how you and I can be a part of the comeback story God is still writing today by getting back to the basics.
Throughout the Book of Acts we discover the first believers were a praying bunch of people. Prayer was the lifeline that connected them to God.
All the believers devoted themselves to … prayer. (Acts 2:47 NLT)
They were constantly united in prayer … (Acts 1:14a NLT)
Our Methodist forefathers followed the example of the Early Church and made prayer a high priority and their basic practice. John Wesley stated, “Prayer is certainly the grand means of drawing near to God…” He claimed no amount of any other Christian activity could take its place. He contended the lack of prayer is the most common cause for the “wilderness state” (a place of spiritual dryness which leaves one hungry and thirsty for God).
Wesley believed prayer should encompass the whole range of life. It should include praise/adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (which includes petition for self and intercession for others). We call this the ACTS model of prayer. It should be done as individuals, in family settings, and with other believers.
In America, 37% of Christians pray daily, 21% have family prayer times and less than 10% attend prayer gatherings with other believers. No wonder many Christians today are spiritually dry and feeling down and out.
There is no doubt our comeback as a church has been fueled by prayer. We’re indebted to Pastor Chris Ackerman who took us back to this basic practice when we were left with no facilities or ministries. It started with a daily prayer walk through the Transmitter parking lot with the ruins of the sanctuary as a backdrop.
For the seven weeks when we worshipped outside in the parking lot, those daily prayer times were held. Is it any wonder that those worship services were so dynamic and meaningful?
Then, when the pandemic hit a year and a half ago, we reinstituted the practice through the technology of Zoom. Every Monday – Thursday we gather online at 8 am for prayer. I don’t ever see that stopping and I’d love to have more of you join us.
I can’t “require” it of you, but I can sure “ask” or “implore” you to do it. The comeback story of church depends on our devotion to the basic practice of prayer. Can we count on you?
Statistics show the average American Christian prays 5-7 minutes a day. If that’s the average, many pray a whole lot less. You want to be at least average, don’t you? I think you’re all above average so I want to issue the 8 minute challenge: Spend the first 8 minutes of the day (or the first and last 4 minutes) in prayer. You can do this four days a week by joining us for the Zoom prayer call. Another idea: if you get a morning or afternoon break at work, walk and pray for 8 minutes.
Get creative and get back to the basics of prayer. Let me know what you do by emailing me at Craig@mylhumc.net.
2) Searching the Scriptures (or Bible Study)
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching… (Acts 2:42 NLT)
The first Christians had the benefit of being taught by the apostles themselves. You and I now have access to their instruction because it’s been written down. We know they were well acquainted with and taught from the Hebrew Scriptures. Then some of them wrote down what they learned from Jesus and what God, through His Holy Spirit, revealed to them. As a result, we have the Old and New Testaments
Early Methodists made the study of Scripture one of their basic practices. John Wesley once said, “My ground is the Bible. Yea, I am a Bible-bigot. I follow it in all things, both great and small…O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God!” He expressed a desire for all Methodists to be “Bible Christians” and instructed them to read it regularly, “some part every day,” and to apply what they learned there.
Therein lies the problem for many of us today: we have the Book, but we don’t read it.
Let me share a few statistics with you. The good news: 90% of Americans own three or more Bibles. The bad news: 44% read it in a given week and only 13% read it daily.
If Jesus was right when He said, “One does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 NRSV), we have some malnourished, hungry folks in our churches.
Notice that Wesley didn’t say, “Own the Scriptures … Carry the Scriptures … Cherish the Scriptures. He said: “Search the Scriptures.”
A book is made to be read and the lessons learned put into practice … that’s as basic as it gets.
Modern technology has made it easier than ever to get back to the basics in this regard. Throughout church history, most Christians could have only dreamed of owning a copy.
We now have it readily available and accessible every hour of the day, everywhere we go with the Bible app. This free app has 67 English versions, many foreign translations, verse of the day, and countless Bible reading plans.
It takes about 72 hours to read the entire Bible. That’s less than 12 minutes per day to read it through in a year. Add that practice to the 8 prayer challenge and watch the comeback unfold!
3) Christian Conference (Group Fellowship)
There is no doubt there was a sense of togetherness among the first followers of Christ. They ate together, they prayed together, they worshiped together, they worked together, and they met together. They did life together – koinonia or fellowship.
All the believers devoted themselves to … fellowship … (Acts 2:47 NLT)
John Wesley urged Methodists to adopt a similar lifestyle through what he called Christian conference. “I am convinced that preaching like an Apostle, without joining together those that are awakened and training them up in the ways of God, is only begetting children for the murderer,” he says.
So everywhere he went, he organized Methodists into small groups called societies, classes, and bands that met regularly for prayer, Bible study, and fellowship.
As I recently heard a fellow pastor say, “Don’t call yourself a Methodist unless you’re in a small group!” In other words, Christian fellowship is our legacy as a denomination.
I’d go a step further: “Don’t call yourself a Christian unless you’re in a small group!”
So how do we engage in Christian conference? What constitutes group fellowship?
Let’s not make it harder than it has to be: just find another believer (or two or three) and do life together (including praying together and searching the Scriptures together).
What the Early Church called fellowship and John Wesley called Christian conference, we call Life Groups. It’s easy to form one or email Mindy Clemons, Mindy@mylhumc.net, and we’ll try to get you in one. Another option is to come to our revamped Wednesday evening Bible study (re-launching Sept. 8, 2021).
Before moving to the final “means of grace,” let me mention this…
If I asked modern day Christians, “What’s the most basic practice for believers?” I have a feeling that the vast majority would say, “Attending corporate worship.”
In contrast, if I asked the same question of Early Christians or the first Methodists, I know the answer would be, “Participating in group fellowship (Christian Conference).”
If we want our comeback story to be as compelling and engaging as theirs, we’d do well to follow suit. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.
They worshiped together in the Temple … met in homes … (Acts 2:46 NLT)
4) The Lord’s Supper
The persons who ate with Jesus in the upper room on the night before His death carried on the tradition of sharing a common meal in remembrance of Him in the days that followed and it became part and parcel of their life together.
All the believers devoted themselves … to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper) … (Acts 2:47 NLT)
John Wesley encouraged the early Methodists to “commune at every opportunity.” He stated, “As our bodies are strengthened by bread and wine, so are our souls by these tokens of the body and blood of Christ. This is the food of our souls: This gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection.”
As basic as food and water are to our human existence, the bread and juice of Holy Communion are just as essential to our spiritual well-being. As United Methodist Christians, we believe it is more than a mere symbol or reminder of what Jesus has done. It is a sacrament (sacred moment) and a “means of grace” by which Christ makes Himself present with us
So whatever we need – forgiveness, healing, guidance – Jesus provides as we gather around the Lord’s Table. It is a demonstration of God’s grace in all its forms – preventing, justifying, and sanctifying grace.
It has been our tradition as a congregation to celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a month. But following Hurricane Michael, while meeting in the parking lot, we had Communion every Sunday and then we continued that practice during the year and a half we were at the Bay Haven gym.
During the Covid shutdown that forced us to worship online and since we’ve resumed in-person worship, we’ve gone back to our old ways of once a month. I’m still not sure it’s practical to do so, but I’d sure like us to consider incorporating the Lord’s Supper into all of our worship gatherings, especially when we can once again safely celebrate it by intinction (dipping the bread in a common cup). It is a constant reminder that Christianity in its most basic form revolves around experiencing the presence of Christ in the presence of other believers.
As the future of this church unfolds, we don’t have to come up with new and innovative ways of doing things. We just need to get back to the basics that have served Christians well from the beginning – prayer, Bible study, group fellowship, and the Lord’s Supper.
Let me remind you of what came as a result: signs and wonders, sharing with one another so every need was met, great joy and generosity, favor in their community, and best of all, every day folks were being saved and added to their number.
Wouldn’t you love for that description to summarize the life of LHUMC? It can and it will when we get back to the basics. These practices, as they did for the Early Christians and first Methodists, will help us write our comeback story and enable us to help others “come back” to the Lord.