An authentic community is where we can celebrate and be celebrated. Notice how Luke ends his summary of the first-century believers: “They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their numbers grew as God added those who were being saved” (Acts 2:45-47 MSG). They were being together and having fun. They were in each other’s homes, sharing meals, laughing and talking, enjoying life with each other and with God. It was so good that even people who weren’t believers wanted to be believers because of the community.
And, why wouldn’t people be attracted to this group?
We were born to celebrate, and we love to be around a group that celebrates. God never intended for fun and laughter to be crowded out of our lives. God’s people should be the ultimate party animals (in the proper sense of the word.) God’s church should be the final party place—a place of rejoicing, celebration, and laughter.
Why? Because of what God has done for his people. We have a reason to celebrate. God has given us a new life. Because of the work of Jesus on the cross and our corresponding faith in his work, we have an abundant and eternal life. Life was meant for celebration. Remember what Jesus said of the angels when one person comes to faith in Christ? “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10 NIV). The angels celebrate. Remember what the father did when the Prodigal Son returned home? “Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:23-24 NIV). The father represents God, and the son represents us. God celebrates. God is the author of celebration. Don’t miss this point: Celebration is at the heart of God himself. We will never understand the significance of celebration in human life until we know its importance to God. I suspect that most of us severely underestimate God’s capacity for celebration.
And God’s intent was that his creation, you and me, would mirror his celebration. The early church did just that. Every time they got together, it was a celebration. They were the recipients of grace, the receivers of love, the beneficiary of hope. They were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. They were hopeful of his return. They were changed men and women.
The manner of their celebration marked their community. It should mark ours as well. What were the elements of their celebration?
God is encountered
“They followed a daily discipline of worship” (Acts 2:46 MSG). Worship is not a weekly pep talk to rally the troops and win the contest. Worship is not the Christian alternative to a Saturday night rock concert. Worship occurs when people who have fallen in love with the God of the universe meet him. Robert Webber, in his book Worship Old and New, says it succinctly that worship is “a meeting between God and his people.” Worship does not lead to an encounter with God. It is an encounter with God.
A small boy sat beside his mother in church. Like most children, his attention was neither easily captured nor readily held. So much of what was happening in the service seemed uninteresting, unrelated, unimportant. Quite frankly, the boy was bored stiff! Suddenly his ever-wandering eyes noticed a bronze plaque prominently placed upon the sidewall. There he saw stars, letters, and the outline of an American flag. Nudging his mother and pointing to the plaque, he asked, “What’s that?” Graciously and patiently, the young mother replied, “Oh, those are the names of the people from our church who died in the service.”
There was a long pause. Suddenly he demanded his mother’s attention again. With a sense of concern—almost panic—he asked, “Mom, was that in the first or the second service?”
It is safe to say that true, life-changing encounters with the living God is missing from many of our churches. One of the greatest needs among believers today is not new programs, or a new seminar, or a new study. What is needed today is an encounter with God. We desperately need a life-changing glimpse of the greatness, the awesomeness, the wonder, the power, the mercy, the goodness, and the lovingkindness of the God we serve.
When we encounter God, we can’t help but celebrate. We will see God as he is and understand who we are. At that moment, all we can do is fall on our faces and acknowledge his mercy and grace.
Joy is expressed
“They [were] exuberant and joyful” (Acts 2:46 MSG). As products of God’s creation, creatures made in his image, we are to reflect God’s fierce joy in life. That is why the Bible speaks not just about our need for joy in general, but a particular kind of joy that characterizes God. Celebration is felt when we express “joy, joy, down deep in our hearts.”
Lewis Smedes puts it this way: “To miss out on joy is to miss out on the reason for your existence. C. S. Lewis said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” The apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4 NIV).
The Bible puts joy in the non-optional category. Joy is a command. Biblical scholar William Barclay said, “A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms.”
Life-changing encounters with God are missing in our churches, and so is joy. Just look around. Bad news, long faces, and heavy hearts are everywhere—even in the church. A Brazilian student studying at an American university said that what amazes him most about Americans is their lack of laughter. I am unable to refute his observation.
Just as worship characterizes our celebration, so should joy. Joy is the outward expression of the inward knowledge that God has everything under control. Joy is the flag that flies above the castle of our hearts, announcing that the King is in residence. It is this infectious joy that convinces a watching world that Christianity is real and that Christ can transform a life.
Lives are intertwined
“They [ate] meals at home, every meal a celebration . . . People, in general, liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved” (Acts 2:46-47 MSG). A McDonald’s commercial showed a man sitting alone in his kitchen, pretending someone over a loudspeaker was asking for any millionaires. Then the man sitting alone raised his hand, got all giddy, and excited. It’s a cute commercial. But it misses an essential point. Celebration, whether it’s winning a lottery or receiving a big promotion or accepting a new life, is best done with others.
The early church understood this. Their lives were intertwined, connected. They celebrated together.
The Special Olympics features mentally and physically disabled athletes from around the world. One of the most memorable events that happened during the Special Olympics was a foot race among a group of people, each of whom had Down’s syndrome. The runners were close together as they came around the track toward the finish line. One of them stumbled and fell. When that happened, the rest of the runners stopped. They went back as a group, helped the runner who had fallen to stand up, and then they all ran across the finish line together. Once across, they hugged and congratulated each other for finishing the race.
I can think of no better picture of an authentic community than that. A place when people who are disabled by sin, who help each other stand up, link arms and celebrate the finished race.
To get more information and join the South Carolina Christian Chamber of Commerce (SC-C3) movement, go to www.sc-c3.org and become a member today!
Rick Ezell is the Managing Partner of Employee Care of America, which provides care, chaplaincy, coaching, and crisis management to the workplace (www.employeecareofamerica.com). Read more of his writings at www.rickezell.com.