Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Building the church, reflecting the Kingdom" - notes for sermon 14/06/09

Continuing our series preaching through our purpose statement - "Living life Jesus' way, by His Spirit, on His mission, for His glory" - we are now studying the section on mission. What does it mean to be on a mission? What is our mission?

Jim shared 2 weeks ago about God’s promise to (and through) Abram that all the world would be blessed through him and his offspring (and subsequently of course, SPIRITUAL offspring), and then Ben shared last week that our Great Commission from Jesus is to GO into all the world and make disciples of all nations... The blessing through Abraham is not shared by osmosis! We have a job to do!

But did God’s plan finish at “Right, off you go and tell the world about me...”? No! His plan continues into providing the perfect environment for nurturing, teaching, disciplining, mobilising, resourcing us to fulfil His purpose TOGETHER. A place where His Kingdom is perfectly reflected: His church.

I wonder what the disciples initially thought when he gave them that Commission? But also, I wonder what they thought when Jesus made His first official announcement about the church: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it...” (Matt 16.18)

The understanding of what Christ’s church should look like, should act like, has been something that has been argued and debated over pretty much ever since that moment unfortunately – just take a look at all the variations of “church” around us, some Biblically legitimate, others not: there’s Protestant/ Roman Catholic, high church/ low church, Jehovah’s Witnesses/ Mormons, Greek Orthodox/ Lutheran, “Emerging” Church/ “Emergent” Church...

Let's a closer look at what God truly intends: at how the church’s primary design fulfils its purpose, that of worship, and its subsequent mission:

Read Ephesians 2.11-22

1.The Raw Materials

Look at those first few verses of this passage and see how Paul describes where we once were: “Gentiles in the flesh”, “separated from Christ”, “alienated”, “strangers”, “having no hope”, “without God”. In fact, earlier in chapter 2, Paul had described us as “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”: without a saving faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice, we are all subject to God’s condemnation as sinners. Every single one of us is guilty of “original sin” – God designed that Adam should represent the entire human race and so through his choice to rebel, all of mankind is condemned; our relationship with him is broken; this original sin is perfectly evident from a very young age – and all our own individual acts simply add to the case against us. Our selfishness, our own desires to put ourselves before God, to elevate ourselves or others or objects or lusts to the status of God, warrants just punishment from the High King.But now we are “brought near by the blood of Christ” (v13)!! Hallelujah! He has “reconciled us to God in one body through the cross”! That condemnation that we deserve as sinful creatures from a perfect, holy, just God has been crushed and killed by His amazing grace and love in Jesus Christ, the One Who paid our penalty. God has taken raw materials – you and me and our brothers and sisters across the world – and is crafting them into His radiant church. It doesn’t always look like it, but have a guess at whose fault that is...?

Take the man Peter as an example: it was he whom Jesus was addressing when he said in Matthew 16.18: “...You are Peter (which means “stone”), and on this rock I will build my church”. This is a hotly debated verse, and Roman Catholics have taken it to mean that Peter was the first Pope – I won’t even go there other than pointing out that Peter had no more authority than any of the other Apostles, plus that Peter himself teaches on the priesthood of all believers later in the NT; Jesus was not talking about an office, or an infallibility in this flawed man’s own words. This “ROCK” that Jesus mentions is Peter’s confession only seconds before – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” – and his central role is establishing the early church. That’s it... But this man Peter is the very same one who only just a short while after this earth-shattering revelation actually rebuked Jesus for speaking of His need to suffer in the near-future and was lambasted in turn for allowing Satan to work through him. Peter had entertained the devil’s attempts to hinder Christ’s mission, and was so human-centred in his understanding of Jesus that he failed to see the truth for himself.

This same man denied his relationship with Jesus during the Saviour’s arrest and trial. THREE TIMES he was given the chance to stand beside his master. Three times he failed.

This same man caused no end of problems, as told in Galatians 2, which Paul had to confront and deal with; Peter began separating himself and eating only with Jews, who still believed it was important to follow kosher dietary laws and actually making the Gentiles feel like second-class Christians. This was wholly against Christ’s intention for a church where everyone was the same, there was no longer Jew or Gentile...

But do you know what? THANK GOD JESUS STILL CHOSE THIS MAN, DESPITE KNOWING WHAT HE WAS LIKE AND CAPABLE OF AND WOULD DO. It proves the point: “I will build my church...” Not Peter, not Paul, not you, not me. Jesus will, using raw materials like us and Peter so that He, Jesus, gets all the glory when, strangely enough, it works beautifully.We all have a part to play – we’ll look at that shortly – but this is Jesus’s church. Hallelujah!

2.The Building Plans

But what is the purpose of the church? What are we here for?

It has often been said that in saving the nations, the church is God’s plan “A”, and that there is no plan “B”. Very often, people look away from the church and look elsewhere for answers to the world’s problems – and there are some very good instances of great things being done outside of the church for the world’s poor and oppressed – but Christ’s church should be leading the way. Plus, of course, those non-church organisations don’t change the destiny of people’s souls...

In this passage, Paul tells us that we – once those very raw materials – are now “members of the household of God” (v19), “a holy temple in the Lord” (v21), “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (v22).

At first glance, it may appear by reading through the Bible that God kept changing His mind: He created the garden of Eden, but Adam and Eve screwed that one up, so He banished them, then destroyed all but a few couples with the flood and started again, then tried again with the Israelites, who again screwed things up, so God sent Jesus to finally get things done. That can be how it appears. But: the church was God’s plan “A” all along... all the other instances were precursors of what was to come in Christ:

In Genesis, God "walked" with His people (5.22,24; 6.9); in Exodus, he decided to "dwell" with them (25.8) - He dwelt in the tabernacle until their sins caused His glory to depart (1 Sam 4); then He dwelt in the temple (1 Kings 8.1-11) until, again, Israel sinned and the glory departed (Ez 10.18-19); God subsequently dwelt in Christ's earthly body amongst us, the body that men took and nailed to a cross; today, by His Spirit, God dwells in the church, His spiritual temple (1 Cor 6.19-20 & Eph 2.20-22). God dwells here on earth in a corporate people, not just of one nation, but from across the nations, in anyone who trusts in Christ as their Saviour.

But why should this be a properly organised body? Why not just a multitude of individuals saved for eternity? What’s the difference?The Greek word from which “church” is translated, "ekklesia", occurs 114 times in the New Testament. This is the word used in Matt 16 when Jesus says “I will build my church”. But this word, ekklesia, was used in the New Testament period to describe more than the gatherings of Christians, but also to refer to assemblies called to perform specific tasks. The church is the people of God, the body of Christ, destined for a specific purpose. In this fellowship are those people who have accepted and entered into the reign of God. This reign is not entered into by nations, or even families, but by individuals, to BECOME HIS PEOPLE. For worshipping God, for nurturing each other, for evangelism and acts of mercy in the world. To reflect His kingdom.

The church is designed perfectly to demonstrate the Kingdom in word and deed. Worshipping Jesus TOGETHER, contending for the gospel TOGETHER, for harmony, love for our enemies, sharing a life in common; IT’S RADICAL!!! The people in Acts 5.12-14 didn't dare join them, but God added to the church in multitudes. Howzat?!!!

The church is the unique instrument for bringing God glory through worship and mission. This is our mission: to proclaim this Truth to the world in word and deed. TOGETHER.

3.The Building Process

Verses 21 & 22: "Christ Jesus... being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple; being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit... " What a process! Let’s unpack that...

First of all, remember that Jesus said “I will build my church...” He is the cornerstone, or foundation stone, of His church. Everything rests on Him. He is the primary foundation stone, the critical stone in the foundation’s corner that ensures the building is square and correct.

Ps 127.1 says: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain”. Unless the building is constructed His way, with His oversight, instruction and blessing, it will be meaningless. That verse does not say we don’t labour, that we let God do all the work – we have a part to play – but we must ensure He is in charge, and we seek Him at all times for strength, guidance and blessing while we do. Jesus is the cornerstone, and we must act as such at all times. He must be at the centre of everything we do. For the very same reason, Paul clarifies here at the end of v.22, that it is “... by the Spirit...” That’s the same reason it’s in our purpose statement! We must recognise the Spirit’s work in our own lives and as we labour in our building work... Don’t grieve Him. He’s a person.

Now, Paul gives us further explanation of how the foundation was built around this glorious cornerstone of Jesus: v.20“...built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets ... Jesus Himself being the cornerstone...” With Christ as the stone that decides the correct position and accuracy of what follows, the church’s foundation continued to be established on the Apostles and prophets of the time: men who God had ordained for a purpose at that time. There are no more Apostles with a capital “A”, or prophets, who spoke and wrote the infallible words of God or continue to lay the foundation of Christ’s glorious church. A foundation gets laid once and once only. Play around with your footings and you’ll get subsidence. The foundation has been laid clearly and categorically by men that God ordained for a purpose at that time. And here in our Bible we have the unchanging blueprint to study and follow...

Since then, although the specific office of Apostle is no more, there are men with clear apostolic gifting - the ability to pioneer church plants, to minister cross-culturally, the calling to lead and influence multiple churches and so on – and thank God we in New Frontiers receive the benefit of such men that God has given us in that capacity. (Terry Virgo, Graham Hall, Tom Shaw, for example).

Continuing this thread of the current building process, Paul tells us 2 chapters later in Ephesians, that God has given us the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds (pastors) and teachers... why? “ equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...”! The work continues! The show must go on! We have a mission to fulfil!

As for evangelists and prophets, we had the benefit of David Morris serving us so well recently, a man with a clear evangelistic gifting, and men such as Julian Adams – who will be serving us next week at Church on the Farm – are clearly gifted in the prophetic. Their prophecy does not continue to lay the foundation of the church – that has already been done – nor is it infallible or equal to Scripture – the canon is closed – but folks such as these guys are still provided by God to serve the church and “... equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...”

And as for shepherds and teachers: Pray for your elders! (The lot of an elder is not easy and open to criticism...) God has given them the responsibility of looking after the likes of you and me – they need all the help they can get! Pray for those that support them too. The “great” apostle Paul asked for prayer himself on many occasions, recognising his own need for help. I know I keep saying it, but pray for these guys as they lead us...

All these guys are provided by our Father in heaven to equip us for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ – you and me – that we might fulfil His Great Commission to the best that we can. TOGETHER.


The church is still being built, by and upon Christ, through His wonderful Holy Spirit, with us as co-labourers. Jesus calls us, those raw materials, one by one to salvation, but also calls us together for His mission. The NewFrontiers purpose statement = "A worldwide family of churches together on a mission". We are being joined together, both locally and globally, in Him and for Him, creating a beautiful, radiant dwelling place for God here on earth, and our actions and decisions should reflect that. More are added day by day, across the world, and I stand in faith and get excited about Christ’s name being glorified in Herne Bay more and more in the years to come. I believe it!

Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it...” There is nothing the devil can do that will resist Christ’s church. He might try, he does try, but keep close to Christ, foster your relationship with the Holy Spirit, because there is nowhere more exciting, or safer, than the true, Bible-based, Spirit-led church of Jesus Christ.

As Bill Hybels says in his book “Courageous Leadership”: "There is nothing like the local church when it’s working right. Its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, the disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addictions, frees the oppressed, and offers belonging to the marginalized of this world. Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness... Still to this day, the potential of the local church is almost more than I can grasp. No other organisation on earth is like the church. Nothing even comes close."

Are you playing your part? Are you saved in the first place? Do you believe Jesus Christ is the perfect Son of God, who died that we might be cleansed of all our wrongdoing and selfishness, and rose again that we might have eternal life with Him, unhindered, unstained, rescued from eternal punishment? Do you really believe that?

If you do, are you actively involved in His church, being joined together with your brothers and sisters for His glory and His purposes? Are you helping others to trust Him? Are you sharing the good news with others? Are you doing everything He is calling you to do?

We are no longer raw materials, we are being built together into a dwelling place for the Almighty God. Let’s live like it.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Beacon Touchpaper #11: "The Feast Prepared"

"...that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God..." (Eph 3.17-19)

I couldn't unfold the above passage better than Martyn LLoyd-Jones himself, so I'll hand over to the good "Doctor":

". . . The secret of the early Christians, the early Protestants, Puritans and Methodists was that they were taught about the love of Christ, and they became filled with a knowledge of it. Once a man has the love of Christ in his heart you need not train him to witness; he will do it. He will know the power, the constraint, the motive; everything is already there... The servants of God who have most adorned the life and the history of the Christian Church have always been men who have realized that this is the most important thing of all, and they have spent hours in prayer seeking His face and enjoying His love. The man who knows the love of Christ in his heart can do more in one hour than the busy type of man can do in a century...

...Are we seeking the Lord's face? Are we coveting the knowledge of His love? The Apostle prayed for every single member of the Church at Ephesus that he or she 'might be able to comprehend with all saints what is the length and breadth and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.' How tragic it is that any of us should be living as paupers, out on the cold street, while the banqueting chamber is open and the feast prepared..."

Where are you? Where am I? Out on the cold street or in the banqueting chamber? Press in, the feast is prepared!
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