Church Community Encourages Growth!

-Celebrate The Differences!

During our nearly 35 years of marriage & ministry together, my wife and I have had several opportunities to minister to some married couples who were struggling with their relationship.  And, more often than not, they were fighting over the very things they originally found attractive about each other—their differences! Oh yes, indeed, opposites do attract! And, if you don’t celebrate the differences from the start of the marriage, you’ll begin to see them as irritants after while.

-Diversity Is God’s Blessing!

Those differences were obvious early on; and, they were seen as complimentary because each one filled in some deficiency in the other person. That’s also true in the faith community that makes up every local church.  Have you noticed how different each individual member is in your church? We all have different backgrounds & upbringings; and, that diversity adds strength to the faith community! But—like marriage—those differences can become problematic to our fellowship if we’re not careful. We can look at how different we are & conclude that we just can’t fellowship with those people! When we “go there” we make the same mistake as the troubled married couple!

-Differences Give Us Perspective!

The differences that my wife & I brought into the marriage gave us perspective; and, stretched us because they exposed our individual weaknesses & our need to make some changes in our lives. I believe we are each a better person because we’ve grown, in those areas, to actually be more like the other person. God uses His church to accomplish the same thing in our lives—our differences make us stronger! God often exposes our weaknesses & our sinful tendencies through the strengths of others.

-No Traction Without Friction!

In fact, our interaction, within the faith community, is one of the MOST significant ways that God grows us spiritually! It’s the friction that we encounter, in our church family, that gives the Holy Spirit the necessary traction to grow us! So, don’t ever look condescendingly at anyone! In Romans 15:1-6 the Apostle Paul points out the fact that there are individuals—within the church—who are strong spiritually; and, others who are weak! And, that can be said of every local church!

-Spiritual Infants Need Your Help!

In every faith community there are some who are spiritually weak in their faith. Perhaps they’re a spiritual “infant” because they’ve never been discipled. Their greatest need is for someone spiritually mature, in the faith, to come alongside them & show them how to grow.  There are others who are weak because they’ve been wounded or hurt—could be spiritual, emotional, or physical pain that they’re dealing with! Again, they just need someone to love them enough to come alongside them & take the time to listen; and, to help! God intends for the Church of Christ to do the work of Christ! That’s why He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell every believer so that we could reconcile people to God!

 

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Devoted To Church Community!

-But, Satan Opposes It!

Unity is always God’s will for His Church! Satan, on the other hand, is always working to sow seeds of “DISUNITY” among those individuals that comprise a local church community! Because Satan has been so successful—at promoting disunity—many believers have determined to live a life of “isolation” while still attending church; and, others have elected to “quit” church altogether! Listen believer: “God never intended for you to live your Christian life in a vacuum!” I am so sorry that you’ve been “wounded”! I truly am! The Christian life was never intended to be lived alone; but, in the context of a “community.”

-Is It Like Joining A Commune?

Now, I’ve noticed that all it takes for some of us to “check out” is to hear that word “community.” Your eyes kind of roll to the back of your head! You cross your fingers & hope we’ll quickly change the subject! It’s like you’re afraid I’m going to tell you to sell everything you own, join a commune, and, raise organic fruits & vegetables! If that’s what you think, it’s because you misunderstand what community means in the Biblical context of a local church. It’s something that, once you grasp it’s meaning,  you’ll never let go of it because of it’s relational beauty!

-Biblical Community Is Beautiful!

In our hearts, we all want Biblical community—it makes no difference your personality type! Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or, socially awkward, all of us long for meaningful human relationships! That’s how God “wired” us—in HIS “image”—in the “community” of the Triune Godhead! He is, Himself, a “community” of 3 persons—ONE God existing in the perfect, loving, community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even those of us, who’ve been “wounded” by someone, still keep searching for deep, authentic, relationships. The word “community” is a compound word: “COM” meaning “with”; and, “UNITY” meaning… “unity.” So, it means to “be unified”; or, having “common union.” In the church it just means to share our common life “IN” Christ.  Now that’s a problem, in America, where the typical response is to look for a church where WE can “be fed”; where, our family can be ministered “unto.” That response is foreign in Scripture! It’s is an unbiblical, unhealthy, consumer-driven mindset that has hi-jacked Jesus Christ’s intended purpose for HIS CHURCH! It requires repentance!

-We’re Not Just Here For You!

The church—the followers of Jesus—is NOT made up of those who “minister”; and, those who are “ministered to”! Rather, ALL are to minister!  “And, let us (ALL of us!) consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). “Bear one another’s burdens; and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). More than 60 times the phrase “each other” or “one another” is found in the N.T. commanding the church in the ways they’re to minister & care for one another! Every person can say, “We’re not just here for you; you’re here for us also!” That’s the responsibility of everyone in the faith community! The church that fails in that is crippled; and, guilty of “man-centered” narcissistic consumerism!

The Church: Designed To Change Us!

The Local Church Community Sanctifies Us

Jesus never intended that we would “lone wolf” the Christian life as an individual! Rather, it was His plan to use the local church “community” to sanctify and change us! Read Paul’s letter to the Church of Ephesus; especially, chapter 4. It was clearly NOT his intent that we view “the Church” as some “universal body” out there somewhere! He spoke to the body of faith that made up the local Church of Ephesus.

The Body Ministers To The Body

In v.16 he tells this church that it’s the “WHOLE BODY” that ministers to the “WHOLE BODY” & spiritual growth happens in the corporate life of the church when all the individual members are working together properly— “In LOVE, building each other up!” Clearly, the “each other” referred to the believers in the Church of Ephesus; not, some “universal church” on the other side of planet earth—we can pray for believers on the other side of the planet; but, it’s simply impossible to build up believers with whom we have no contact!

Jesus Uses Other People To Change Us

Jesus intends to use all the different people, with their diverse personalities & traits, to change us! He uses the difficult people, the annoying people, the “special grace” people, and, the sinful people to smooth out our rough—and, sometimes sinful—edges! “From Him the whole (“local church”) body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the (“local church”) body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part (of the “local church”)” v.16.  It is by our unique, diverse, spiritual experiences, with God, that together—as a “local church”—we have the opportunity to provide rich counsel & support to each other! For the one struggling with alcohol addiction, there are believers, in the body, who’ve been delivered from it! For the one struggling with sexual sin, there are believers, in the body, who are winning that battle with the Spirit’s help! So, there’s someone who will stand with you & encourage you in the fight! For those who admit they are a gossip; or, a liar; or, have anger issues; or, a cursing tongue; or, they’re bitter—someone in the local church body has been there; or, they’re fighting the same battle; and, together there’s mutual support!

There’s An App For That

Jesus designed the Church to be that community, or family, that meets one another’s needs! Someone, in the local church family, has either overcome the sin your struggling with; and, can offer support; or, someone is fighting the same battle & together you can keep each other accountable & see God do a sanctification work in your lives!  In summary, here’s what Paul is telling the local Church of Ephesus: God makes us stronger “collectively” than we will ever be “individually.” It’s the lone ranger sheep, not engaged in the community life of the Church, that the wolf goes after! He’s easy prey! Now, perhaps your wondering where you can find this kind of church! I’m afraid they are few; and, far between! Pray! Ask God’s Spirit to direct you! Search out this kind of church; and, BE that kind of church member! God Bless!

 

 

I Am Not The Church! We Are!

-Jesus Sanctifies Us Through His Church!

Jesus uses His Church as a significant means to produce His intended changes in our lives.  Now, for many professed believers, in America, that is dissident because the Western Church has been such a huge disappointment & embarrassment. The problem has never been with Jesus’ Church; but,  with the human operation of His Church! We’ve “institutionalized” it when Jesus created it to be “communal.”

-What The Church Should Look Like

The Apostle Paul sets up what the Church should look like in his letter to the Church of Ephesus—I think we forget that this is written to a specific, local Church! He writes to “…the faithful saints in Christ Jesus at Ephesus…”; and, 9 times in 6 short chapters he refers to them as the “Church”—“ekklesia” is the original Greek word; and, it literally means a “called out assembly.” God calls out His Church of Jesus-Followers from the people of the world; and, the point of their being “called out” is to “assemble” in “community”; or, “communally” like a family; and, to meet each other’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

-The Church Does Life Together

Just take the time to read through ch. 4 of Ephesians; and, don’t read it through the glasses of your “American Church culture.” The “you’s” are NOT to be read as individual “you’s”—it’s “YOU”, the CHURCH, the community of believers doing life together! “I urge YOU (the Church of Ephesus),” Paul says, “to walk worthy of the calling YOU (the Church of Ephesus) have received…” It’s a corporate calling—YOU, the Church of Ephesus, have this calling TOGETHER! Paul says they ought to be so entrenched in their calling, TOGETHER, that the fruit of the Spirit is evident in the way they do ministry as a BODY—v.2 “with…humility…gentleness…patience & love…”; v.3 there should be unity in their community that’s Holy Spirit driven “…with a peace that binds US.”

-The Local Church Is One Body

Read it in context—the “US” is the Church of Ephesus! And, the Church of Ephesus is ONE BODY (v.4); and, Paul doesn’t break the body down to it’s “individual” parts until we get to v.7, “…now grace was given to each one of us…” And, this “grace” came to each individual—in the Church of Ephesus—in the form of a GIFT (v.8) from Jesus, our Messiah & Savior, to build up their local Church in Ephesus!

-Jesus’ Goal For His Church

In ch.4, v.13, of Paul’s letter to the Church of Ephesus he writes, “…that we (the Church of Ephesus) reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of Jesus growing in maturity…” Because of our “American Church Culture” we read into that our “individual” walk with Christ; but, that’s NOT the context of Paul’s words! Their individual spiritual maturity was not to be a “solo” act! Paul is saying that the goal was a spiritually mature “Church community”—a Church no longer resembling a bunch of immature little brats (v.14); but, mature believers speaking the truth to each other in love (v.15).  In the next verse, Paul tells them it’s the “whole body” (the Church of Ephesus) that ministers to their “whole body.” So, here’s the application—Jesus intends to use our local churches to sanctify us as individuals! We grow spiritually in the BODY!

 

God’s Plan For World Evangelism

-We’re Insulated From The Real World!

There’s something about living in America that insulates us from the real world. When we see pictures of some of the horrors that choke the rest of the world, they seem so far away that they’re almost surreal! Well, Church, we need to awaken from our slumber; and, we need to see the world through the lens of Scripture. We need to face some realities—at best, 1/3rd of the world knows Christ if you count everyone who claims to be a Christian! Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt, that still means that 4.5 billion people are, by their own admission, non-followers of Christ. They remain eternally separated from the God of creation at this moment!

-We’ve Failed The Rest Of The World!

What is God’s will for these? “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9.  It’s not God’s will that any of these would perish? So, why are many of them dying without ever hearing the Gospel? It’s because we—Christ’s Church—have failed them! And, we are without excuse! It is God who empowers us to be His witnesses to the whole world! We can’t ratchet up enough strength to follow through on the Great Commission. Jesus told His disciples, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you…” Acts 1:8. His Spirit has come; and, He indwells each of us! God commands us to embrace the lostness of the whole world—”…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

-Jesus Didn’t Just Die For “US”; Or, The “U.S.”!

We need to face a humbling truth that Jesus didn’t just die for US! We may not say it; but, we live like we think God is an American! But, John 3:16 doesn’t say that “God loves ME so much He sent Jesus to die for ME.” The message of Biblical Christianity is that God loves me so that I might make HIM known among ALL the NATIONS! It’s about the LOSTNESS of the whole world before God; and, reconciliation by the work of Christ! The total depravity of the world requires our faithful witness to the Gospel’s work on behalf of sinners!

-The Gospel Is Intended For All Ethnic Groups!

He says, “…YOU will be MY witnesses…” We are witnesses of the Gospel work He has done in us! In Christ’s commission— “Go and make disciples of all NATIONS…”—that word, “nations”, is “ethnos” in the original Greek. It’s the word we get “ethnic” from in English. So, it’s “ethnic” groups or “people groups.” And, in Matthew 24:14, Jesus says, “…this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the NATIONS, and then the end will come.” Same word! So, it seems that God intends for all people groups to hear the Gospel before the end comes! Let’s be faithful to our calling

 

How God Gets His Work Done!

-He Doesn’t Need My Wisdom!

The Church of Corinth was one messed up church—they struggled with sexual immorality; and, they fought over the Lord’s Supper; and, their doctrine on the resurrection of the dead was problematic! So, when the Holy Spirit provoked the Apostle Paul to write a letter & call them out, he reminds them of the 1st time they met when he had introduced them to the Gospel:  “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified….my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

-Don’t Sanitize The Gospel!

I’m not intending to read into the text; but, it seems like maybe they’ve become embarrassed over the Gospel. Perhaps they felt pressured to make the Gospel more appealing to their cosmopolitan neighbors by down playing the cross, the shed blood & the atonement. If so, there’s probably an application here for the western Church—have we digressed so far from our calling that we feel compelled to sanitize the offensiveness of the cross? Have we become so “seeker friendly” that we’ve become “Gospel unfriendly”? Do we crave the world’s approval so badly that we feel compelled to “market” the Gospel by packaging it in a more user-friendly format?

-God Only Blesses His Plan!

It seems, in the reading of this letter, that Paul is intent on changing some faulty thinking! They needed a doctrinal cleansing on HOW God gets His work done—He doesn’t need our help! He doesn’t want us to figure out how to DO CHURCH in our wisdom or strength! He will only bless HIS SOVEREIGN PLAN! Paul seems to emphasize interactive discipleship over “church programs”—life on life interaction! “…I came TO YOU…I was WITH YOU” he said in vs. 1,2.  Paul also emphasizes the power of God over human performance—human method’s will come & go; so, focus on the power of God to minister through us!

-Do Ministry By God’s Grace!

If our ministry focus is on US—how WE need to GET BETTER at it; or, how much effort WE need to put into it—WE will be ineffective at it! We’ll become neurotic & self-absorbed over whatever ministry we’re involved in because our efforts will center on us & our abilities rather than God & His power to do the spiritual work—that ONLY HE can do—in someone’s life! We’re talking about doing ministry by “legalism” vs ministry by “Grace”; and, GRACE wins every time! When we perform ministry in the strength of the flesh it puffs us up; and, gives us the allusion that we’re helping God out! He doesn’t need our help!